Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Continuing the conversation

I really enjoyed the discussion in the comments on this post about Musical Geniuses. Thank you all so much for joining in and sharing your points of view. I wanted to revisit the topic because over the time since then I've continued to ponder the issue. I've mulled over the comments and delved deeper into the reasons behind my stated point of view. I've begun to realize a change in my reasoning-- or perhaps a clarification...

One thing that stood out to me in what many of you said was a reference to God's influence in a person's Talents. Something I hadn't really plugged into my own reasoning on the subject. Many of you also applied the idea of Prodigy to other areas-- not just music, but art, writing, speaking, etc. This also I hadn't considered before. I had been thinking of the area of music exclusively.

So after adding these two ideas into the pot brewing in my mind, and also doing some "soul-searching" about where my ideas were coming from, what was the motivation behind my aversion to the term, "Prodigy", I came up with a few new things for your consideration.

First of all, my motivation. While I've never been labeled as an actual Prodigy (although some of my siblings (who shall remain nameless) have been at times), all my life I've stood out as Different from my peers. Or perhaps I should say, a select group of myself and some close friends have stood out as Different from our other peers. We were home-schooled, avid readers, highly articulate, motivated in drama and music, practiced in sewing and other home-crafts, lovers of dance and intellectual conversation. We were Creative. We were Artistic. We were Musical. We were Intellectuals. Those were the labels that set us apart from "Normal Kids". I know that sounds arrogant. I was indeed arrogant. Not consciously. I simply accepted the labels that were applied to me and assumed that there was something slightly better about me (you have no idea how embarrassing that is to write down in black and white).

As I got older, and as I moved outside my small circle of local friends and began to encounter people with talents different than mine I realized something about myself. I was no better than the next guy. Not really. There was nothing so special about Me, Myself, that set me apart from others as Better. Different, yes, unique in the eyes of the Lord, yes, but not Better. I began to look back on my teenage self with shame. And I began to reject the labels; Musical, Artistic, Creative and Intellectual. It positively makes my skin curl up when someone calls me one of those things. Not to be ungracious, it's just the context. You know? It reminds me of my arrogance.

So here's where the Lord comes into my new way of thinking about this. I don't think He made me intrinsically different from anyone else when it comes to my abilities in music, art and general creativity. He simply gave me a desire and a joy that is only fulfilled when I'm actively involved in one of those areas. It's not that I'm such a great and talented seamstress, I just DO it. All the time. Because I love it. My voice is physically not that much different than yours, it's just that I have a desire to develop my voice, to train it and work with it-- singing to the best of my ability brings me joy and I'm not satisfied with just singing, I want to sing better and better and louder and higher and stronger. I can't stand not to create things of beauty, so I'm driven to explore new ways of doing that. I try out decoupage and smocking and embroidery, I wall paper my dining room and research cool ways to paint my walls, I buy fabric almost compulsively.

I think every human is created in the Image of God and that this creative drive is expressed in different ways in different people, but it's all basically the same thing, in that it is an expression of the Image of God in man. So therefore, the five-year-old Musical Prodigy is no greater a person than the mother with four children who fosters five more because her creative-drive-expression-of-the-Image-of-God thing expresses itself in her mothering. Or the mom who spends all her spare time volunteering with underprivileged kids, or the guy who invents a new coding language, or the teacher inventing new ways to explain Einstein's theory of relativity.

So the reason that I reject the label "Prodigy" is that it implies something Better about that person than the average guy. What I now think about that person labeled a Prodigy, is that God has created him or her in such a way that they have a drive, a desire, a hunger and thirst in their particular area. That's what sets them apart. Not a Betterness, but a stronger Desire.

I still think that environment plays a crucial role in this whole thing, but I'm now seeing it as secondary to this Desire.

Whatcha think?


Hosanna said...

RIGHT ON, Lis.... Dittos.... Amen.... and I hear you about the arrogance. I think it was (is?) very common among the home schooled. I used to think of myself that way also; like I was somehow more highly "evolved" due to my home education and dedication to creativity and arts; much the same way you were. (heck, we grew up together doing the same things all the time.)I actually used to think that there were certain people that were beneath my "level" of talent and intellectualism. Sick, and embarrassing, yes, but true.
Great, great post.

Debbie said...

I think you are right on the money with this one! Excellent assessment.

Jenny said...

I think you're definitely getting closer;) This is a huge issue (did I say that before?). "Prodigy" is like "Genius" -- except there's no "objective" scale to measure one's level of prodigal powers;) that I know of anyway; (as opposed to genius which is determined by IQ -- a somewhat objective measure).
I think that kids are very much a product of their environments in how much those talents are DEVELOPED. You grew up with an environment that encouraged you to excell at things that other kids might not have even been exposed to. Then again, you're not a soccer star either;) I have a friend who is very into sports -- she is encouraging her 3 yr old to learn soccer. Is this any less of a "talent"? I think not. Is it any less healthy than music/arts? I definitely think not. The dynamic that I grew up in was different from yours and everybody elses (each is unique). All environments encourage or discourage certain activitie (even the ones that sit and watch TV all the time are encouraging a dynamic, though probably not a positive one -- then again, maybe that kid will grow up to be Steven Speilberg!). IMHO, the best environment to grow up in is one that allows for experiences in all directions -- let the kids find their interests and talents...what makes them really tick. Then let them pursue it/them whole heartedly. LIVE LIFE. Learn to not be afraid to try new things...do things differently...be the best you can be. I grew up under the mantra of "always do your best" so now, when I take on a project, I really go at it with my all (which is not always a good thing, as I can get frustrated working with people who do NOT do things that way!).
I was raised to be honest, value hard work and integrity, do my best, help others. These are all wonderful qualities. I was not raised with healthy physical activity, healthy foods, healthy communication skills, healthy self-discipline. These are things I've struggled with as an adult and things that I'm still trying to incorporate in my family life now that I have a child of my own. Some of them have been easy changes (healthy food is easy!), most are very difficult for me (cause I have no self-discipline for anything long-term). I don't want my children to feel the negativity that I felt growing up, but I want them to feel the positivity that I felt growing up (I definitely had BOTH!). A supportive, growing environment (as opposed to an apathetic, stagnant one) makes all the difference.
BUT, all of this has nothing to do with talent!!!;)Just to do with skill levels and desire to "succeed".

Herb of Grace said...

Jen, what exactly do you mean when you say "Talent"? And in what way to you differentiate that from skill levels, desire and the product of one's environment?

Josh said...

You know, [Josh said, removing his pipe from his teeth long enough to exhume a grey cloud to wreath his face] what you wrote reminded me of Tolkien's rather spirited opinion (for such a stuffy old man) on the subject of art as "sub-creation" in his essay "On Fairy-Stories." He said, I believe, that as the world is created by God, and it is good, we (in the image of God) wish to create good things as God did. Writing creatively is a way to mold what good things God has given us in the world and is ultimately a testament towards Him.
[Satisfied, the pipe stem is replaced - pretentious puffing resumed]
- Josh

Jenny said...

Ok, I'll try to clarify quickly (cause it's late and I gotta get to bed!).
Talents are qualities individuals have that are not universal to all people. At some point, a natural propensity turns into talent (again, we're talking about a Bell curve, so it's subjective as to when a skill is translated into a talent).
Skill is learned (again, on the Bell curve, but with the hope of moving up on the curve as you practice your talent).
IOW, talent doesn't grow, but learning skills grows talent. Talent is unveiled, skills are learned. Talent is a gift of God, skill is something you work to achieve. OR: talent is natural, innate, skill is developed.
Of course, desire motivates the development of skills. If a child sees a piano and says, "I really want to try that", it indicates desire. If that desire is encouraged, it leads to developing skills. In the midst of developing skills it may or may not become obvious that the child has real talent. Anyone who has been in the broader musical world knows that there is a difference between a skilled musicial and a talented one.
Environment can allow the desire to blossom into skill, encourage a talent to grow. OR it can dampen a talent with a lack of encouragement to where it will never show. I'd love to think that somehow God will bring even dampened talents to fruition at some point in a person's life, but that's probably a little idealistic of me;)