Mexican toreador Christian Hernandez lost his nerve during a bullfight the other day and fled from the ring, too hoots of derision from the crowd and, inevitably, from the entire Twitterverse. While it shouldn’t need pointing out that Hernandez was badly gored in the leg two months ago, and that the vast majority of the people laughing at him will do nothing more dangerous this year than jaywalk, that’s not quite why I have a great deal of sympathy for him. The key point, I think, is this one that Hernandez himself makes:
“There are some things you must be aware of about yourself,” he said. “I didn’t have the ability, I didn’t have the balls, this is not my thing.”
One of the dominant fetishes in our culture is the search for self-discovery and self-awareness as a form of self help. But the quest is almost always framed as the discovery of hidden or previously unknown powers or capacities: to achieve your goals, all you have to do is believe in yourself. The most blatant example of this is in the Matrix, where Neo has to come to believe that he is The One, but that was just ripping off countless hero-with-a-thousand-faces narratives, from Star Wars to any episode of Oprah.
But one of the most underrated aspects of self-discovery is the way it forces us to come to grips with our limitations. We are biological and psychological beings, and part of growing up is coming to grips with the limits of our capacities, and yes, our weaknesses. Part of courage is knowing yourself.