Always Be First

After only four months in their new home, John and Jane Doe were moving out. As Jane instructed the movers from inside their near-empty house, John was out in the driveway, packing some of Jane's most precious breakables into the back seat of their car.

Noticing the flurry of activity from across the street, a neighbor walked over to John, and, glancing from the neatly packed boxes in the car to the stacks of blanketed furniture on the transport trailer, scratched his head in wonder.

“Moving out, John?” he asked. “Didn't you just move in?”

“Yeah,” John answered. “We've been here only four months. But Jane, my wife, wants to move. Doesn't like the neighborhood much. You know. She gets kind of lonely. Doesn't think it's very friendly here.”

“Friendly?” the neighbor repeated. “I've never lived in a more friendly neighborhood in all my life. As a matter of fact, speaking of wives, all the ladies on the street take turns hosting a tea every Tuesday, and they all get together to go to the pool on Thursdays. Friendly? You won't find a neighborhood friendlier. No, John. It's got to be more than just not being friendly.”

“Well,” John said, closing his car door, glancing through the uncurtained living room window at Jane. “That's what she told me. Said she's well aware of the tea parties and the pool thing. But she says, she's never been invited.”

The two men exchanged a few more words and shook hands, wishing each other luck and success for the future, and as John crossed to the transport to check on the mover's progress, the neighbor crossed back to his home to question his wife.

“Well of course we didn't invite her,” the neighbor's wife began. “We've all seen her on the street. In the grocery, wherever. And you know? She's never once offered even so much as a “hello”, or a simple “isn't it a nice day”. Nothing. We just figured she was a private person, and didn't want to be bothered. So being good neighbors, we didn't want to bother her.”

Sad isn't it? Here we have a group of ladies usually willing to extend a hand of friendship to anyone moving into the neighborhood, and a young woman who desperately wanted to make friends, but neither of them, for reasons of their own, would make the first move.

The lesson here is simple. Always be first. Find out what the other's intentions are before assuming the negative. If, in the event the others intentions are indeed negative, you can always choose to be first to leave.

When it comes to martial arts, it's often said that the best defense is a good offense. Quite frankly, I agree. I would much rather be moving forward in the ring – or in life – than moving backward anytime. When the referee drops his hands, I'm in there fighting. If I wanted to wait for someone, I'd go to the airport.

How often have you attended a party or class, and found yourself interested in, or attracted to, someone just across the room, only to leave at the end of the night not ever having met that person? How do you know this person wasn't thinking exactly the same thing you were? But just like you, they were waiting for the other person (you) to be first.

One analogy I use when attempting to drive this message home to my own children is that of a beautiful fieldstone fireplace stacked with box-dried logs. You could sit in front of that fireplace, literally for years, and never get any warmer unless you do one thing first – strike a match and light it. If you don't, who will? You want warmth? Light the fire. You have to be first.

Offer your hand first in a social or business setting. Offer your name first and ask theirs, repeating it several times during your conversation to remember it. Be first to offer respect, and they will respect you. Unfortunately, it's easier to demand respect, than first give it.

I find it strangely sad that there's some sort of defense mechanism ingrained in our human nature that prevents most of us from going first at anything. It's always, “You do it. If it doesn't kill you, maybe I'll try it.” “I don't want to ask the first question. What if I sound stupid?” Going second is a whole lot easier. We always want to be next. Unless of course we're in a line and our patience is running out. We'd love to go first then.

Martial arts instructors see people like this all the time. “Who wants to spar?” Rarely, if ever, do you ever hear a resounding, “I do!” from each and every student in the dojo. You may get the odd one, maybe two, but most, in my experience, wait to go second.

I love to teach. And I really love those who indicate beyond the shadow of a doubt how badly they want to learn by being first. First to question, first to answer, first to perform. And these students are usually the same people who are always fist to ask if they can be the last to leave.

I also love to separate those with winning attitudes from those who just want to go through life in second. “Fifty push ups!” I call out, the entire class dropping to their chests. “And fifty more to the last one done!” And you should see them go. It's like an Olympic sprint.

But when I call out, “And fifty more to the first one done!” you should see them slow down – each eyeing the other, all trying just hard enough to come in second.

But there's always one, sometimes two, rarely more, who will push their hearts to the limit to be finished first, knowing full well they have yet another fifty shoulder-burning push ups waiting for them at the end. Do I still make them do the extra fifty for coming in first? For showing me they have the attitude of a winner? Absolutely! It's their reward for coming in first. I tell them it's my contribution to them becoming stronger, to becoming a champion for life. It's not always easy being first. Sometimes it's downright scary. But you have to remember that true courage is not the absence of fear, but rather having the ability to control it.

Always be first.

Till next time, stay sharp.


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