(Not) shooting the second arrow

A friend of mine shared this post on Facebook about a week ago, and it made me think.

Let me first quote one paragraph for you:

The Buddha once asked a student, “If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful?” The student replied, “It is.”The Buddha then asked, “If the person is struck by a second arrow, is that even more painful?” The student replied again, “It is.” The Buddha then explained, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. The second arrow is optional.”

As I said, it made me think. Teaching (for many people, including myself, so I will intentionally use ‘we’ in this paragraph) can be a very personal experience, as we often put heart and soul into planning and delivering the lesson to students. As we all know, not every lesson goes ‘smoothly’, no matter what is implied by this word. It gets even more sensitive if it is an observed lesson, and we are worried about the impression we make on the person watching this activity that did not work very well for the students…


Now, when it comes to reflecting on a lesson taught or observed, it is hard or next to impossible to separate oneself from the emotions and feelings about what happened. Often, the stronger feelings are about the parts that were less ‘successful’, or helpful for student learning. Sometimes, the feelings are so strong that they don’t give a chance to take a step back and describe what actually happened, or be objective.

I thought that the idea of ‘(not) shooting the second arrow’ could become a nice way to introduce the concept of reflection and reflective cycle on a training course for teachers. Will try it and see how it works! Thank you for reading 🙂

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/.
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2 Responses to (Not) shooting the second arrow

  1. I love the parable, and I want to check with you to make sure I understand how you are using it. Do you mean that ‘shooting the second arrow’ is the disservice we do to ourselves if we allow ourselves to stay in the cloud of emotion while reflecting on our lesson? Or do you mean that ‘shooting the second arrow’ is what happens if we don’t reflect on our lessons at all? Thank you for making me think more, as always!


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Anne

      Thank you for reading and for asking this wonderful question: to me, this is about the first idea you mentioned (that being ‘blind’ by emotion we might not ‘see’ the actual lesson or students) On the other hand, rejecting the emotion, the feeling that we had or having during the reflection time, is also not a wise idea. Ideally (if that exists) it is about accepting one’s feelings. A kind of awareness. Accepting one’s feelings, and sharing them or not with the others – another question I need to think more about.

      Oh, and I guess the option of not reflecting at all because of all those (negative) feelings is perhaps the third arrow that is shot at a teacher?

      As always, thank you for this idea exchange!


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