Sometime back I read about an experiment performed by Joshua Bell and the Washington Post to test whether the general public would recognise musical brilliance if it was played for them incognito in the morning rush hour of a DC subway. I forget the title of the book that made reference to it, but I haven’t forgotten the underlying message – that perspective is everything. When taken out of his usual environment, only one person out of over 1000 people recognised Joshua Bell, a former child prodigy and violin virtuoso for whom people were paying upwards of USD100 a seat just to listen to him perform in concert, and only a handful of others actually stopped to appreciate the beauty of his music.
The Washington Post did a pretty thorough examination of this rather surprising outcome which you can read in its entirety by clicking the link. What I wanted to bring to attention were a couple of points from the article that relate to early childhood development and children.
Firstly, it was interesting to note that even though very few of the passerbys were willing to stop and take in the music, “every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.” What happens to us as we grow up that we lose that wonder of childhood that allows us to recognise beauty when we see it and to stop for a while to enjoy it? The Washington Post answers the question with this quote:
“The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother’s heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too.”
Sort of reminds me of what Sir Ken Robinson said:
“kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. They’re not frightened of being wrong. Now, I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong… And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities. Picasso once said this. He said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it.”
It bothers me that we’re taking everything good about our children and slowly killing it as they grow up. For a while now I’ve been wondering how we can preserve these qualities in our children and ensure they don’t lose them in the process of growing up.
The second point I wanted to raise is about Joshua Bell and his parents. How did Joshua Bell begin his journey to becoming one of he most accomplished violinists of this day? “His parents, both psychologists, decided formal training might be a good idea after they saw that their son had strung rubber bands across his dresser drawers and was replicating classical tunes by ear, moving drawers in and out to vary the pitch.” He was 4 years old when he had his first violin lesson.
I’ve always talked about giving our children opportunity to discover their passions so they can excel in a field that they enjoy. I have also said that I believed every child has a potential that is waiting to be discovered. I know it sounds like the typical mother’s fantasy of raising a prodigy but the difference is that I don’t believe children are born into it. They may be blessed with a natural aptitude for a particular subject that, given the opportunity, they are capable of bringing to great heights.
And if I sound like a mother living a fantasy, I don’t care. Who else is going to believe in a child if it isn’t the parents? Who else is going to be a child’s biggest cheerleader if not the parents? I’m not saying that we live vicariously through our children by pushing them to become all that we always wished we could have become, but isn’t it worth spending the time to help your child create a life they will bounce out of bed for, rather than one where all they want to do is keep hitting the snooze button?
When you look at the movers and the shakers in the world, they all have a passion for what they do. Just watch a video of Joshua Bell playing the violin. You can’t tell me that’s not passion.
Passion creates success and it is success in a healthy way. Even if the success is not earth-shaking, we still have the passion which is a lot more than we would have if we were blindly reaching for success alone and failed to achieve it.
The last point is about Joshua Bell. Despite all his accolades and praises with the likes of “his playing does nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live” and being told he “plays like a god”, Bell has maintained his humility and modesty. If I could, I would love a sneak peek into his upbringing because it is so easy to lose your head with all that praise.
I’ve been thinking very hard about what I want the boys to get out of life because you need to know the goal before you figure out how to approach it. I think that’s it really. If we can get that part right, everything else falls into place – more or less…
Update: After writing this post, I stumbled across an old video of Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement Speech in 2005. His speech reiterates the message about living life with passion but much more eloquently, so I strongly recommend watching it.