Saturday, May 14, 2011

Why Chuck Norris Jokes Are Dangerous

They've been tweeted, Facebooked, and made into Demotivational Posters, and everyone with kids has heard a hundred or so of them. But why are Chuck Norris jokes not just dangerous, but a threat to our society in general?

Because they are the worst kind of lie, the kind we tell ourselves. We like to convince ourselves that hard work doesn't matter, that people like Chuck Norris become skilled, fast, powerful, strong, and fit because of their impossible super powers
Some people wear Superman pajamas. Superman wears Chuck Norris pajamas.

We'd like to think that, like Rocky Balboa or the Karate Kid, Chuck Norris went to some mystic guru-like sensei, worked hard for about, oh, 8 weeks or so, and emerged as the Karate Champion of the World and a Universal Badass. But the truth is that Chuck Norris, like anyone who has achieved anything meaningful, worked very hard to get there. He studied, he trained, he fought, he even lost, he learned from his mistakes and went back to fight some more, and to train some more, and to train even more. And eventually, he became very very good.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of us believe that we should instantly be great at something when we first try it. Or if not instantly, we should, in a matter of weeks, begin mastering the skills. Instead, Malcolm Gladwell argues in his (excellent) book Outliers that true mastery takes about 10,000 hours. TEN. THOUSAND. HOURS. Cogitate on that one for awhile. He gives many examples of successful businessmen, athletes, and entrepreneurs that show how each one had a combination of opportunities that allowed them access to those 10,000 hours. Of course it also takes skill. But skill alone is not enough. Even highly skilled people have to work hard to get good.

What does this mean for those of us who are trying to transform ourselves? In a way, I think it can bring a sense of relief and peace. If we release ourselves from the expectation that we'll be awesome overnight, that we'll acquire the necessary skills in an immediate time frame, then we can gift ourselves with the opportunity to simply suck for awhile. We can then take our time, we can allow ourselves to learn and grow and get better in our own way. We can also allow ourselves to not only make mistakes, but to learn from them. Instead of letting a failure derail us from our goals, we can pick ourselves up and carry on. After all, even Chuck Norris failed his first black belt test. It didn't stop him though, did it?

When we turn away from the American "Magic Wand" approach to mastery and instead accept the notion that meaningful change is often slow and incremental, we also avoid what author David Wong calls "Effort Shock". In his excellent essay How the Karate Kid Ruined the Modern World, Wong argues that Effort Shock (similar to Sticker Shock where we realize that the price of something is far higher than anticipated) comes when

We have a vague idea in our head of the "price" of certain accomplishments, how difficult it should be to get a degree, or succeed at a job, or stay in shape, or raise a kid, or build a house. And that vague idea is almost always catastrophically wrong.

So the next time you're prone to be hard on yourself for failing to live up to your (probably unrealistic) expectations about how something should come more easily, remember that meaningful change comes one step at a time. And that if someone is standing in your way, it's quite likely that person is you. Or, as Chuck Norris himself (the Universal Badass himself) says:

You can usually see your way around the blocks that other people put in your path, but the blocks you create yourself, the ones that come from inside your own thinking, seem rooted in the ground and as wide as the horizon. As indeed they are, for you yourself are standing in the way. The way around the block is from the inside.
Learn to think kindly of yourself, to pay yourself the respect you'd pay someone else. Learn to greet yourself the way you'd greet a stranger - politely, open to the possibility that you might be about to make a friend for life, aware that the person standing in front of you could be anyone, could come from anywhere, could be about to accomplish anything. The stranger could be about to make any number of dreams come true. And having greeted the stranger, realize that all those things are equally true of yourself.





6 comments:

veronicastarr said...

This is awesome! Thank you!

Marv said...

This may be a little off task, but I hate it when folks remark about some of the things I do or can do, "you sure are lucky to be able to do that."

Luck? I have been at this almost 30 years and still trying to get good. Luck? I guess they have been bottle feed on heroes that just show up in great shape because of lucky heredity and fight the villians with a superior natural skill. No wonder 60% of this country is overweight with illusions like that being propagated.

Robin said...

Yeah, the "lucky" comments are sure annoying, aren't they? But if people didn't believe that, then they'd have to believe that they too could achieve great things by working hard, like you have. It's easier to believe in luck.

J said...

Hello, and good day! My name is Jared, good to meet you! I stumbled across this blog after LOOKING for Chuck Norris Jokes...

I am heavy into CrossFit, marathons, half marathons and such competitive activities. I also run some after school fitness programs for some friends of mine who are mothers and aspire to/compete in these things.

I work with young people(20's) and youth(high school/middle school) these days and just have a passive question/observation, if you would: These jokes are obviously very prevalent in their culture, used as ice-breakers in groups and trying to "one up" each other in their peer circles with Chuck Norris Challenges(who can recite the best and most jokes). I cannot say I have ever felt or heard the sentiment you describe towards these things; even among the older(comparatively, not accusing :-p ) peer groups, 40's to 60's. Believe it or not, I have met Chuck Norris when I was stationed in Germany with the Air Force in 2007. He had just returned from a trip to Iraq, for the second time, from shaking hands of over 18,000 troops (2,000 more than the previous year) and actually started off his meet and greet with about 25 or so of his own jokes... He went on to explain how he started in his martial arts career, stationed in Korea when he was in the Air Force.

I just wanted to pick your thoughts, merely because I have never personally had thoughts about your topic, nor have I heard those frustrations from anyone else. Thank you for your blog! I hope to hear from you. I am genuinely curious.

Respectfully,

Air Force Vet/Current Army Spec Ops.

J said...

Hello, and good day! My name is Jared, good to meet you! I stumbled across this blog after LOOKING for Chuck Norris Jokes...

I am heavy into CrossFit, marathons, half marathons and such competitive activities. I also run some after school fitness programs for some friends of mine who are mothers and aspire to/compete in these things.

I work with young people(20's) and youth(high school/middle school) these days and just have a passive question/observation, if you would: These jokes are obviously very prevalent in their culture, used as ice-breakers in groups and trying to "one up" each other in their peer circles with Chuck Norris Challenges(who can recite the best and most jokes). I cannot say I have ever felt or heard the sentiment you describe towards these things; even among the older(comparatively, not accusing :-p ) peer groups, 40's to 60's. Believe it or not, I have met Chuck Norris when I was stationed in Germany with the Air Force in 2007. He had just returned from a trip to Iraq, for the second time, from shaking hands of over 18,000 troops (2,000 more than the previous year) and actually started off his meet and greet with about 25 or so of his own jokes... He went on to explain how he started in his martial arts career, stationed in Korea when he was in the Air Force.

I just wanted to pick your thoughts, merely because I have never personally had thoughts about your topic, nor have I heard those frustrations from anyone else. Thank you for your blog! I hope to hear from you. I am genuinely curious.

Respectfully,

Air Force Vet/Current Army Spec Ops.

Robin said...

I rarely hear these sentiments in the circles I run in - highly motivated and determined people who work hard to become better at what they do. But, like Marv said above, I often get comments from other folks in the "you're so lucky to be fit" realm. Or listening to comments about the Olympics on Facebook or in person, I think the general public is really not aware of the incredible amount of hard grueling work that these athletes have to add on top of their (considerable) talent in order to get where they are. So no, I don't hear such things in my everyday circles, but yes I think they are pervasive in the greater culture.

And friends who are college professors will tell you plenty of stories of students who just expect to be instantly exceptional and get all bent out of shape when they are handed a poor grade for mediocre work.