Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Whose Gifts Will We Accept?

"Am I gifted?" asked my seven-year-old son tonight, looking up from his bedtime reading.

I looked at his adorable little face, totally innocent, asking an honest question with the tone of one who really is simply wondering what the term could mean.

I wanted to exclaim, "You're TOTALLY gifted - are you kidding?!"

But I restrained myself a bit. "Your father and I certainly think so. Why do you ask?"

He pointed to the inside flap of the book he had just started reading. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. "Because it says here on the jacket, 'Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?' "

I tried to offer, again, a more measured reply. "I definitely think you fit the bill."

Actually, you're a little genius! A brilliant, talented, beautiful, loving, gifted little boy who's already changed the world, just by being present in it! And even if we were the only ones who could see this in you, by golly, it would still be fundamentally TRUE! Isn't that GREAT?!

I added, "I think all children are gifted in some way."

He nodded. But I think he could sense my undercurrent of adoration.


Several years ago I heard a radio ad advertising a summer program for "gifted" or "exceptional" high school students at some Ivy League college. It extolled the virtues of such a student: intelligence, motivation, leadership, etc. And all I could think was, what if someone doesn't WANT to be a "leader?" What if someone with a lot to offer the world wants to offer it in some other way - by working hard behind the scenes, or in a group, or by listening and generating positive change in quiet, "ordinary" ways? Isn't such a person as much of a gift to society as a more visible figure? Why are we so utterly clueless about understanding an individual's worth?

I've always wondered - having seen a "prestigious" educational system from the inside - how, for instance, an institution dedicated to TEACHING can view as "worthy" only the most obvious talents and stars, when teaching in principle should be about bringing learning opportunities and stimuli to those that need or hunger for them, regardless of their advantages or disadvantages. I like Jesus' attitude to an analogous process, and his response to the intellectuals and elitists that criticized him for it: "I have not come to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners - and they may even enter the kingdom of heaven before you."

I have done a lot of thinking about this because while I can be a capable leader when necessary - for example when I need to take charge of a clinical situation at work, and use my help and resources efficiently - I much prefer being a helpful cog in the machinery. In this society, which exalts the "assertive" type, my quieter leanings have in the past been viewed disfavorably in certain settings. I think it's one of our culture's biggest mistakes: to dismiss, fail to acknowledge, or totally miss out on the gifts people have to offer simply because their personalities or personal inclinations don't project an image of stardom.

If I had started my music career playing a group instrument instead of a solo instrument, I think I would never have left music for a time the way I did. I MUCH prefer being second oboe to first. I LOVE being alto instead of melody in choir. So when I found this quote by Leonard Bernstein, I was thrilled: "I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm—that’s a problem. And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.”

We have no harmony. Maybe people should consider listening a little more closely to those "second" voices...the non-soloists that give the music its rich layers of sound and meaning.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you on leadership. Though I have excelled in school and other aspects of my life, leadership is something I'm not interested in. I'm a medical student now and even then, I know that I've a role in community and such... but I don't dream to be head of surgery dept or chair of blah blah program.
I'm just happy and satisfied by talking to my patients, making right diagnosis and helping them make right decision about their health. Those are my simple joys in life.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post!! Well, I like the way you are thinking and I like that gift.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written, T.

T. said...

Thanks, all. Lim - you're SO right! That's exactly it - the simple joys! Aren't they the greatest?

Kathy said...

Once again, I had to cut and paste this one into my personal journal. Outstanding post! Bravo!

T. said...

Thanks, Kathy! I really appreciate that.

K. said...

Your children sound AMAZING! Happy Mother's Day, you lucky mom...