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if you can’t do - learn

Bloged in art, cognition, music by rod Monday August 23, 2004

There seems to be a growing phenomenon of a thought process that says your ability is more amazing in inverse proportion to your knowledge. There are a few popular musicians from the 60s and ‘70s who expressed their intentional avoidance of the acquisition of any musical knowledge for the fear that their natural ability and creativity would be squelched.
You would not believe how often I hear how much more amazing someone thinks they are, or thinks someone else is, because they “don’t know what they’re doing”. I have to laugh out loud when I write this, but it is not uncommon for me to hear this, “I play really well, even though I don’t know what I’m doing.” Of course my inner response is, “then how do you know you play really well?” I hear things like, “he has to be one of the most gifted players I’ve heard because he can’t even read music.” The implication is that if you have to learn to read, you must not be very talented. So I guess that makes the intentionally illiterate more amazing speakers of the language.
Of course this carries over into areas other than reading ability or knowledge. I have had students tell me that they don’t listen to music because they don’t want their own creativity to be squelched, or to be influenced by other people. They’ve come to me for lessons, but refuse to listen to any music. It seems they want me to find what they already know and show them where it is so that they can use it. I’ve even had a student tell me that he had considered registering for lessons with me, but didn’t want ME to influence him. As kindly as possible, I told him that I thought he needn’t worry, I highly doubted that he’d ever be influenced by anyone. The irony is that any natural potential that these folks may have is not realized because their decision to remain dumb has rendered them ignorant of what is actually possible on their instrument. Also they render themselves unable to actually create in the sense that they could express something that they imagined, in their mind, and then assemble it for us to experience. Rather, because the mind is empty, they are left only to discover things on the instrument, and will never be able to imagine themselves doing anything more than they can discover that their hands can already do. No ambition, humility, goals or longing – only the need to prove how wonderful you already are.
I think the bottom line issue here is pride. If I can do it without being taught, or without the influence of others, then I must be better or smarter than those (including the teacher) who is dependent upon these crutches. Like the old frustrating saying, “if you can’t do, teach”, there is a culture of, “if you can’t do, learn.”
Of course, being a guitarist/teacher, I find this very frustrating and even humorous at times. But where I’m absolutely baffled by this mentality is among Christians, in the context of their faith and Christian walk. At times, it seems that those of us who desire, to think, and meditate, and ask, and seek, are accused of weak faith because we can’t just accept. But I never said that I can’t just accept. In accepting, I’m drawn, called to deeper understanding, more diligent seeking. I’m haunted by the Holy Ghost to learn how much farther I can go in my relationship with God. God commanded me to love Him with all my heart, soul, MIND and strength. He said if I seek Him with all my heart, I will find Him. How could anyone be so prideful as to feel that a desire to learn about God betrays a lack of faith? There is no doubt in my mind that generations of this mentality has produced a culture of non-believers who view believers as simple minded, lazy, unthinking, weak people in need of a religious crutch.
It is not ok to be intentionally ignorant. We grow prideful and never learn to see ourselves as who we really are. We are poor witnesses of the unfathomable mystery. We misrepresent Christ like Robert Mapplethorpe misrepresents art.

3 Responses to “if you can’t do - learn”

  1. cmar Says:

    Me, myself, and I have all trod the road you’ve described so well. Especially when it came to sports, I always prided myself on being at the level I was without ever really putting forth the extra effort. Of course, once I moved up to varsity in high school, the ones with the talent AND diligence were the ones who played. If pride cometh before a fall, laziness is what keeps people from even moving, from ever growing.

    When I turned 21, my dad gave me something that he had carried in his wallet since he had turned 21, something his dad had given him on that landmark birthday. It’s a quote by Calvin Coolidge (1872). Of course the sentiment of the piece of paper’s journey means the most, but it’s a good quote all the same. I carry it in my wallet now, with frayed edges and blurred type. I even laminated it to keep it safe.

    Press On:
    Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genuis will not; unrewarded genuis is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derilects. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

  2. thepunkofpoetry Says:

    And so it goes back to the original sin: our fallen nature causes to want to be our god, to create without material. Well, we’re not god. We do not live in a vaccuum and cannot create from a vaccuum. Only God can. Human creativity thrives on interacting with others and blending those influences into something unique to ourselves.

    Great article with great points. I find when I intellectually discover more about God and his creation (even quantum mechanics), I’m left in awe and full of a worshiping spirit. Maybe it’s because I’m more intellectual, but sometimes I worship God most when I learn something new about His creation or His nature.

  3. dphil Says:

    My mom gave me a copy of Bill Bright’s last book for my birthday. It’s called “Finishing with Joy” (or something close to that) It’s his death bed message to his friends and anyone else who will listen. Having known and worked with the man and getting into this book, I see a man who died as he lived - a true, long term, living example of spiritual greatness and humility, a rare combination. The discussion of pride and humility made me jump to this connection. Maybe some kind of mental ricochet, but there you go.

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