I’ve just discovered that jam tarts aren’t so bad after all. Not a massive revelation, I know, but one that set me thinking about the nature of past experience and how it can shape present and future practice, if we let it.
As a youngster, I and my two siblings were often left home alone over the weekend. My father was a travelling preacher and would spend his weekends in the sumptuous homes of church-goers, being feted and feasted and generally spoilt to bits. We, on the other hand, were left in poverty conditions where the cupboard was literally bare.
Being a preacher (especially an itinerant one) wasn’t a lucrative vocation. Money was scarce and my father lived off handouts, grants and donations. Whilst his spiritual and dietary needs were met in the homes of fellow believers, his financial needs rarely were. And so, we lived hand to mouth. Cupboards were never stocked and what little there was, was usually quite random and unappetising.
And so it was that on one weekend, three children were left to fend for themselves with a block of jelly cubes and six jam tarts. And for years afterwards, I was unable to bring myself to sample another jam tart.
They’re not bad. Certainly not as bad as my childhood experience led me to believe. I wouldn’t rush out to replenish the larder with them, but I certainly won’t be turning my nose up at them if offered in the future.
So much of what we do as adults is based on rules, expectations and experiences rooted in our past. We can blithely define ourselves by those experiences and subsequently close the door on new ones. I told myself I didn’t like jam tarts, but that wasn’t true. What I didn’t like was their association with hunger, poverty and the feeling of being abandoned. So I took it out on jam tarts and denied myself for over 40 years.
I’ve done it with other things. I’ve told myself for years that I don’t like heights, but when I was forced to participate in a high-rope adventure with a work-team, I found it exhilarating (albeit a bit scary).
When it comes to stretching ourselves, opening ourselves up to new experiences and fulfilling our potential, we need to challenge some of the artificial limits we have self-imposed or adopted from childhood. We are not the same people today as when we first experienced a similar event. The situation is different, the context is different, we have a different understanding and greater capacity to rationalise with the benefit of hindsight and maturity. So just because we had a bad experience once, doesn’t mean we should be forever defined and confined by it.
Who’d have thought a jam tart could be such a catalyst for insight.