I've been reading Fahrenheit 451. It's one of those classics that I am only now getting to. I don't often get a chance to read for fun, but I'm enjoying this book. By "enjoying", I mean, "kind of freaked out about how true it's ringing when compared to our current American culture." But a certain section really grabbed me in terms of dealing with the fear of being vulnerable, the fear of putting yourself out there.
The basic context of this passage is Guy Montag has the difficult task of heading back to his fireman post after being confronted by his captain, Beatty, about missing work and signaling that he knew Montag had books, that he knew that Montag was questioning his life's work, and offered a chance to burn his book stash and come back to safe conformity. He's talking to Professor Faber, the "old man", his secret librarian, mentor and conspirator via a hidden radio in his ear.
"My feet," said Montag, "I can't move them. I feel so damn silly. My feet won't move!"
"Listen. Easy now," said the old man gently. "I know, I know." You're afraid of making mistakes. Don't be. Mistakes can be profited by. Man, when I was younger, I shoved my mistakes in people's faces. They beat me with sticks. By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed to a fine cutting point for me. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn. Now, pick up your feet and into the firehouse with you! We're twins, we're not alone anymore, we're not separated out in different parlors, with no contact between. If you need help when Beatty pries at you, I'll be sitting right here in your eardrum making notes."
Montag felt his right foot, then his left foot, move.
"Old man," he said, "Stay with me."
Bradbury paints this scene and this battle we can all relate to in a great way. The book as a whole has been a great warning of the perils of masking all discomfort and gliding through life as comfortably sedated as possible - something our culture has promoted with every app, every streaming video service, every 80" OLED television sold. But in this passage, he deals with the discomfort and downright fear of making a mistake. Of the possibility of looking stupid. Of the potential to fail, to be shown a fraud. Faber exclaims that without showing what we don't know and exposing our weaknesses, we can't learn, we can't get better, we can't build the art/company/self we want. What really struck me was the imagery of Faber's "blunt instrument" being beaten "honed into a fine cutting point" from having his ignorance repeatedly corrected. I love that so much. Masters of craft - real fine cutting points - have repeatedly failed, have repeatedly been beaten and ultimately honed by falters, false starts, failures. We just don't typically read those parts of the book or see those parts of the movie.
If you want to be good at something, you have to put yourself out there and be ready to get better/sharper from the drama of flailing around, criticism, falling down, mistakes, naysayers who may be right or may be wrong.
Montag finds courage to do this difficult task and ends up paying a heavy price tag. But he knew he had to do it, doing nothing would have been worse.