We look up

We look up. No matter the hierarchy we embed ourselves within, our focus is always skyward. If we choose to compare and compete on traditional values—wealth, status, respect, recognition—then we look to the billionaires, to the sports stars, to the celebrities. If we choose to compare and compete on ability to create wealth then we look to entrepreneurs, CEOs, engineers, makers. If we choose to compare and compete on interestingness then we look to artists, to creators, performers, to the eccentric, the outlawed and those who exist on the cultural adn societal fringe.  

No matter the hierarchy, we look up. Don’t believe me? Gauge your reactions to the following statements: normal or not-so-normal?

– A world-level athlete idolises their cleaner. 
– A head of state spends hours in a state of rapt attention whilst their secretary describes the organisation of incoming information. 
– A mother of three marvels at and is inspired by the homeless man she passes every morning on her way to work.

“Not-so-normal”, right? That’s because most of us imagine that a world-level athlete is orientated towards excellence, not their household staff, that a head of state is too important to pay close regard to a secretary, and that a mother of three is averse to, not in awe of, a random homeless person.

Another angle. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, like many other martial arts, competence is signalled by belt colour. White belts are beginners. Blue belts have been practising for several years. Purple belts have been at it for longer; they’re committed. Brown belts typically have a decade or so of experience. Black belts, more. So it would seem that the people to idolise, the role models, would be the black belts, the bona-fide savages. Not really. 

Some of the most valuable learning experiences come courtesy of blue belts. From purples, from browns, from whites. From everyone on the mats. That’s how it should be in the rest of our life too—learning from all people of all levels. But it isn’t. More often than not, those who we don’t consider “above” us are hit with the tag, “nothing to teach me.”