Are we undervaluing potential?

Ever since I was young, I’ve always believed that when the student is ready, the teacher will come. I guess, that was one of the things my father indirectly taught me – that when a child displays interest in something, encourage him to pursue it.  Regardless of whether a child sees it through, it is more important to kindle the fire of his passion. My father was never to take an “I couldn’t do it” for an excuse. He always reminded me that no one started knowing anything – and that the only cure to an “I don’t know or I can’t do it” is to learn how to do it.

At least, that’s how my dad saw it.

Growing up, I’ve had to prove people wrong. I guess, having been always the weird one, I’ve constantly questioned social norms.

I remember when I was eight. I asked my mom, “If two guys robbed a bank and threw the cash out of the car window and I happen to pick-it up, does that make me a felon?”. She said yes. “But if I didn’t know the money was stolen, does that make me bad?”. She said it didn’t.

And so at the early age of eight, I already knew that truth was never to be monopolized. And that, at a very young age, I figured that right or wrong is subject to our individual perception. Sure, there are laws that define what unlawfulness is, we also have church doctrines that tell us which acts are morally wrong, and we also have our culture to tell us which are faux pas. But at the end of the day – our values, our perception, our conscience tell us right from wrong.

Yes, at the age of seven or eight, these are the things that crossed my mind.

As I grew older, I grew even more inquisitive. I wanted to learn things around me even when people thought I was too young. Even when people thought I could not do it.

One day, when I was ten or eleven, I accidentally caused my grandmother’s computer to crash. It wasn’t bad but it was enough to make her furious. Since she was using the computer for her work, she didn’t want me to use it – ever.

Five to six years after, I got my first medal for a win in the regional level for a computer-related event. I even graduated with a Presidential Award for Best in ICT. Even though I took up Paralegal Studies in college, I taught myself how to program in HTML, PHP, Visual Basic and C++. I was even doing tutorials, teaching an IT friend of mine programming when he was hard-up in class. I taught myself how to use the internet (from which I’ve managed to monetize via a start-up business I’m figuring out), I taught myself everything I know about computers – burning hard drives, memory modules and motherboards along the way.

In college, aided by the mere disassembly manual I found online and without prior training with gadgets, I changed the flex cable of my Nokia N80 when it wouldn’t turn on and even replaced the LCD cable of my Motorola when it wouldn’t light up.

Today, I’m everybody’s go-to computer guy. I fix simple computer errors to networking problems to even electronic devices. And people have admired me for my knowledge about and my skillfulness in fixing gadgets, computers and technology in general.

As I look back to that very incident with my grandmother’s computer, I realize that everything I learned about computers, I learned because I wanted to. Because people thought I was too young too use a computer (and that I’d mess it up anyway). I learned because I turned my frustration into a learning opportunity promising myself that I would be better, tech-wise, than the people who told me I couldn’t do it. And I did.


How does society determine potential?

Society has never really provided an understandable metric to gauge to potential or ability. Basic examples are “How do we know when a child is ready to cross the street?”,  “When is one ready to commute by himself/herself?”, or “When is a person ready to drive on the highway?”.

Doesn’t the answer lie in watching them do it?

But what I loathe more than anything is how we stand at the sidelines, eager to denounce a child’s potential merely because we “think” he or she is not ready. Instead of being proactive about things and teaching them so that they can learn whatever they want and in the process, help them discover themselves and their abilities, we restrict them by telling them “you’re too young” or “you’re not yet ready”, or in the worst case scenario, a flat out, “hindi mo kaya (you can’t do it)”.

And in that very moment we choose to to pass judgement on a child/person’s ability than take the high-road of teaching him/her so that s/he may learn, by what or whose standards do we measure them?

By our own?

How sure are we that our standards are ‘enough’, that our measure of his ‘readiness’ or ‘maturity’ is correct? By what metrics did we come up with our judgement? And when we tell a child he cannot do it, is it really a reflection of a child’s inability to learn or our inability to teach? To be judgmental instead of proactive in kindling the fire of an inquisitive mind?

While I understand that learning comes at a risk, having experienced it myself, I do know that the mere fact that you are alive means you are at risk – we are at risk of getting hit by a running vehicle, of meeting an accident – we are even at risk of dying of heart attack or dying in our sleep. Hence, there’s no such thing as 0% risk. There is, however, what we call risk management.


Did we fill a bucket or light a fire?

Everyday, I wonder how many people out there, children, young adults, even the elderly who are constantly being told that they are too young or too old to do things. I wonder how many dreams have been thrown away because they thought they couldn’t do it. I think about how many children or people who could’ve accomplished so much or gone so far in life but did not because he never thought he could make the trip.

For me, the greatest thing that a grown-up can teach the young is that “they can be whoever they want to be.”

William Butler Yeats once said, “Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting a fire”

And when I look at people short-changed and dreams discarded, and potential undervalued,  I wonder how many candles were not lighted or worse, snuffed.

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