Monday, January 28, 2013

That Which You Appreciate Most

We're all familiar with the phenomenon; people often don't appreciate or are dismissive of that which they don't understand, with which they are unfamiliar, and/or for which they lack skill. It's easy to see how the phenomenon works and, therefore, easy to address.

There's a related phenomenon that can prove significantly more challenging both to identify and to address; we often don't appreciate or are dismissive of that which we deeply understand, with which we are intimately familiar, and/or in which we are highly skilled. In particular, we often fail to appreciate in ourselves that for which we have the greatest appreciation in others, and in many cases, that lack of appreciation can be downright debilitating.

For example, I often run into self-described "former" musicians, people who love music, who deeply understand music, who spent years developing their musical skills,  and yet, no longer play music. In fact, the phenomenon is so prevalent that my first question of someone after finding out she's a musician is, "So, do you still play?"

You'd be amazed at how often the answer is something like, "No, I haven't played in years."

Being, well, me, I usually continue to pull on the thread asking, "Why not?"

The reasons are varied, often elaborate and always, well, horse doo-doo. I mean, they sound reasonable (kinda), but all in all, they don't actually support the conclusion.

I ask, "So why aren't you playing any more?"

He responds, "It got so that practicing was taking up way too much of my time", or "In order to get to the level I wanted to be at, I'd have had to give up too much else.", or "There are already so many great players. The more I learned, the more I realized that I was never going to be really great."

All sound reasonable (if not accurate). They just have nothing to do with why one would no longer play music. They have only to do with why a musician would no longer appreciate her skills and talent. The pathologies vary, but the dysfunction is always the same; a great player says, "I don't play because I'm not good enough to play."

Of course this phenomenon is not limited to musicians. For example, if you ever explore Harvard Square, you'll find just beyond the Red Line entrance, an area with stone chess tables. At those tables you'll find a grisled group of chess veterans who'll be glad to play you for money. There are always plenty of takers (tourists and students from local universities), who are always surprised at how quickly they lose their bets.

When my dad was in school in Cambridge, he'd make pocket money by playing the chess veterans. Sometimes, he'd play three or four at time. He'd always win. Yet, nowadays, when asked to play chess, he declines. Sometimes, in response to his being at a loss for what to do with himself, I'll suggest, "Hey dad, how about tutoring chess to local high school or college students."

He ignores my suggestion. He's just not good enough.

I could go on. There are so many ways in which this phenomenon plays out. I'd love to figure out a good remediation for it. Hmm...

Hey, what about you? Do you have something that you deeply understand, with which you are intimately familiar, and/or in which you are highly skilled, but that you no longer pursue? What would you do with you if you wanted you to get over it?

Happy Monday,

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