I have no particular talent, I am merely inquisitive.
There are only a handful of words that genuinely set my feet to tapping and get me out of my chair for a veritable dustup. I hate to even say them. It’s painful to me. Here they are: talent, potential, drive, engagement, and absolutely…sure there are more and I will think of them later.
Talent does not exist. You don’t have it, you cannot possess it, and you cannot gain it. There, I’ve said it; it’s out in the open. This is not a post about semantics. I ask that you read with an open mind and that you stave off your response until you are sure you understand what I’m getting at. It may take several posts.
Social constructs are invented based on non-scientific, but usually observable sets of phenomena. Take something like midlife crisis. When someone refers to it, we have a series of behaviors that rush to our minds. The 50 year-old who goes out and buys a sports car or completely changes appearance. That individual might quit their job and do something that they have always wanted to do. Whatever that might be, but it’s usually something out of the ordinary. I had a professor in undergrad who bought a red convertible, quit his academic job, and went off to become a minister. Why? “Midlife crisis.” It was the catchall excuse for the things that he had wanted to do but had yet to do in his life. Is there any neurological, sociological, quantifiable evidence to suggest that this phenomenon exists? Nope. But we acknowledge it. Old wives tales. Personal myths.We keep them alive and give them energy; we perpetuate them even though they do not exist. They stick around because we agree that they exist. There are far more remarkable events in the life of an individual, but these are the ones that gain prominence and become positions of defense in conversation. We fail to acknowledge that some of these beliefs undermine our credibility.
Talent regularly becomes a hotbed of conversation and eventually argument. I am reminded of a quote from Frank McCourt’s musical The Irish…and How They Got That Way where a woman states, in regard to fairies, “I don’t believe in them…but they’re there.” Some of the most reasonable and scientific of individuals go soft and sentimental–usually because they are thinking of a child with fondness–and start talking about the natural, God-given, inborn, or gift of talent that a person may possess. People use the term talent even though it is in opposition to other, strongly held, educational beliefs. The term mystifies something that should be very transparent and accessible–the development of competence through education, mentoring, and deliberate practice.
Talent is a label given by people who do not know the amount of practice that has been performed in order to develop observed skills. It is a microinequity. It is an insult. It says, “You have skills that in my judgment, you did not earn.” Isn’t it a much greater ‘gift’ to have worked hard at developing a demonstrable skill? The owners of these skills are, as are most, unreliable in reporting their own levels of interest and effort. When asked if they practice, they under-report. When inquired about their interest, they are blasé. Isaac Stern, when interviewed by Ellen Langer about his practice habits says that he practices sometimes while ‘watching television programs’ and laughs. Musicians are notorious for under- and over-reporting their practice (depending on who they are trying to impress).
Stay tuned for Pt. 1 and please post comments/questions for inclusions in coming posts!