There is a concept in early childhood development called object permanence. Basically up to the age of two, little kids can’t get their heads around the idea that if something isn’t visible that it still exists.
This of course is why peek-a-boo is such a fun game to play with a thirteen-month-old. They are more able to believe that you keep appearing and disappearing, than they are that you continue to exist behind the hands that cover your face. Ah, the innocence of early youth.
Along those lines there is something I like to call Information Permanence. This is where a single mention of something sticks with you for a very long time, even though you were only exposed to it once. You know those songs that you can’t get out of your head? They call that an “ear worm.” Information Permanence is like a “brain worm,” but unlike the song that eventually leaves you alone, the “brain worm” can live in your noggin forever. This is a good thing – I will explain.
Four decades ago I was approximately seven years old. Seven-year-old boys do lots of different things, but one of my favorite activities was attending weekly Cub Scout meetings in the basement of the home of our Den Leader.
I was a part of Pack 9 located at Harris Hill Elementary School, and I can’t remember what my Den number was, but I can tell you our Den Leader was a guy named Mr. Buch. His son Robbie was in the Den with me and maybe a half-dozen other boys.
I don’t recall what Mr. Buch did for work, but it was definitely something to do with engineering or building stuff, because his basement was full of all kinds of tools and workbenches clearly designed for getting things done.
Every week we would go to Mr. Buch’s house, and after the obligatory ceremony that is a part of every Cub Scout meeting, we would crack open our books and get our hands dirty doing some kind of fun activity to fulfill a requirement.
If you put a gun to my head, I could not list a single specific thing we did but I do remember it was always fun and interesting.
One week we built something out of wood, after which we had to paint it. The average seven-year-old by has some experience with painting, but instead of just cutting us loose with pots of color and brushes, Mr. Buch sat us down for a lesson.
He showed us the proper way to paint a piece of wood, and specifically why you should always paint to the edge of an object – never away from the edge. The concept makes complete sense once you see it, since drawing a paintbrush over the edge of an object causes the paint to be scraped off the brush and drip down the side. Conversely, when you do what Mr. Buch taught us, your brush effortlessly glides to the edge leaving a smooth path of paint and not a single drip down the side.
In the following forty years I have likely painted thousands of objects, and every time I place a brush to the surface, I hear the voice of Mr. Buch reminding me to always paint to the edge, never away.
My eighth grade social studies teacher was a tall, skinny, mustache-wearing guy named Mr. Benoit (pronounced “ben-wah” – it’s French). Mr. Benoit was one of those teachers who was completely into the material he was teaching, in this case it was European history.
He had this big plastic globe that he would pick up and toss around the room to emphasize a point he was making. He was all over the place, shouting things, jumping on desks and getting in the face of his students. If they ever decided to make an exercise DVD called P-90 European History, Mr. Benoit would be the clear choice to lead it.
I swear the guy couldn’t teach a class without breaking a sweat and we all loved him.
We all listened to the high-energy lectures, took notes and regurgitated what we’d learned on quizzes and tests, but one particular statement has remained the recesses of my brain with regularity over the years. As Mr. Benoit aerobically regaled us with information about the French revolution he uttered a somewhat creative, poetic statement:
Napoleon Bonaparte, wanted Europe blown-apart!
Was it corny? You bet it was, but it was also foundationally correct and it became the basis of all the details we learned on the topic. Since graduating from middle school in the early 1980s, every time I encounter anything to do with the French revolution I hear Mr. Benoit energetically shouting his bad historical rhyme.
Of course it is worse than that. Several years ago I purchased a built-in grill for our outdoor kitchen. What brand was it? Yup, you guessed it – Napoleon. So, no fewer than 100 nights a year, Mr. Benoit (or at least his voice) is grilling meats with me out on our patio.
Around the same time Mr. Benoit was planting is brain worm in my cranium; I joined the cross-country team.
I have written about running before and I will likely do so again. One of the things non-runners don’t typically understand is that running is at least 50% mental. When you are out there training or competing, a runner constantly wrestles with pain and doubt while trying to simply finish.
Little kids do well in road races because they don’t think about it – they just run.
When I joined the Penfield Cross Country team in seventh grade, the coach was a guy named Dave Hennessey. Mr. Hennessey (we all called him “Hen”) would be my coach until I graduated from High School in 1987.
As a running coach, he taught me lots of things, but one notion in particular took up permanent residence in my consciousness where it has remained ever since.
One of the hardest things in cross-country races is the hills. Not only are they physically painful to ascend, they really screw with your brain. As you climb a hill in a race, every part of your body is telling your brain, “stop doing this, you are hurting us.” Furthermore, when someone passes you on a hill, they may as well dump a big wet bucket of defeat over your head as they go by. It is awful.
To combat this, Hen taught us a little trick that is useful in running as well as every other part of life, where gutting out the pain is necessary for success. What is taught us was this:
For Penfield runners, every hill is 20% longer.
You see, nearly every runner exhales a massive sigh of relief when they get to the top of a hill and they tend to slow down and relax for a moment, but not Penfield runners. What we were taught to do was to take the effort and pain of the hill and keep it alive longer. If it took a minute to climb a hill, we were expected to push hard for an additional 10-12 seconds after we got to the top.
Thinking like this allowed us to achieve a few things. First it mentally crushed the competition. For another runner who just “survived” the hill, seeing another runner fly by them is quite a blow. Second, it gave us great passing opportunities. As I mentioned, runners relax at the top of a hill and there is no better time to pass someone than when they have let their guard down. Third, the top of a hill is usually followed by a downhill stretch. Instead of relaxing and using the gravity to simply survive, Penfield runners were still expending uphill effort, and when you apply that downhill the result can only be one thing – speed.
Not only is this useful for running, but throughout my life I have looked at every challenge as 20% longer for me. Trust me when I tell you that it has been a key part of every success I have logged to date.
So what’s the point of these three seemingly unconnected stories? Simple – we all teach, instruct and advise every day, thinking that very little of what we say will sink in, but sometimes is does more than that. Sometimes, the things we say put down roots and make a permanent home in the minds of our audience.
Choose all your words carefully. You don’t get to decide which things you say will echo throughout a life. Nobody wants to be the guy who gave lasting bad advice.
What are the little things someone taught you that you still remember? Please share in the comments section below.
Copyright © 2015 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.