I promptly dried my tears, rewrote my report and went on to win second place at the fair
o corner of our home was spared from the sorrowful sounds of my uncontrollable wailing over the failure of my eighth-grade science fair project.
For the past two years I had tried, unsuccessfully, to win a prize in the annual event. That year was my last chance. And my determination had driven me to design an experiment demonstrating the effects of vitamin deficiency. Going through a list of vitamins, I had chosen niacin because a symptom of its deficiency is nervousness. (I suppose my interest in psychology began at an early age.)
I bought four white mice and two cages. Then I designed a niacin-free diet for all four mice while putting liquid niacin in the drinking water of one cage. I had expected to see the niacin-deprived mice demonstrating noticeably nervous behavior. After six weeks, however, there was absolutely no difference between the two pairs of mice. And the night before the science fair I was completely crestfallen and totally inconsolable, despite my parents’ best efforts to offer solace and support.
My older brother Yosef (later to become Rabbi Yosef Wikler, the world renowned kashrus expert and editor, publisher, and founder of the popular KASHRUS Magazine), was in eleventh grade at the time. He could not ignore the commotion I was causing.
After hearing my woeful tale, he matter-of-factly pointed out that my project could still be salvaged if I reworded the accompanying report. Instead of writing that I was trying to demonstrate the effects of niacin deficiency, I could write that I was trying to investigate the effects of niacin deficiency. As I had initially worded my report, my experiment had, indeed, failed. With Yosef’s revision, however, I had actually succeeded because I “proved” that after six weeks of niacin deprivation, there was no noticeable effect on the experimental set of mice.
I promptly dried my tears, rewrote my report and went on to win second place at the fair.
I learned a few things that night. One was that success or failure of any endeavor is determined by how one chooses to define success, a lesson I have often shared with my patients. I also learned that, in spite of our having fought mercilessly as youngsters, when the going gets tough, my brother will always have my back. For example, after I shattered my knee-cap in a biking accident while overseas on vacation, my brother researched and tracked down the right surgeon to repair it. Then he even arranged for a wheelchair accessible ambulette to meet me at the airport.
On the day of the surgery, my brother was there in my room when I woke up and came out of the anesthesia. And whenever I have had to face a crushing disappointment or extraordinary challenge, he has always shown up with a bear hug that I can feel even now, as I write these lines.
Only a brother does that.
Dr. Meir Wikler is a psychotherapist and family counselor in full-time private practice with offices in Lakewood, NJ and Brooklyn, NY
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 854)
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