So I have finished watching a Johnson&Johnson TV special called “The Ron Clark Story”.
I include that it’s a Johnson&Johnson special because I want to make sure to convey the treacle that this story is filled with.
It’s about a teacher who gives up a job in a quiet little town and follows his dream (why is this his dream?) to teach a class in New York, oh no, not just New York but deep dark scary
Now, he is tried and tested and perseveres and all those troubled kids learn to do well in their end of the year standardized tests.
I bought it. I bought it and kinda teared up more than once.
It’s tried and true and it is so cliche, but I believe in what he’s selling. And I believe even more than the cliche.
Why is it that teachers are the easy target? Why is it that this story has to be thrown so low and slow?
Is it because no one could possibly disagree that CHILDREN need to be encouraged and nurtured and that CHILDREN are required to do their best, their best at all sorts of things that they don’t even enjoy, whether that be math or english, P.E. or learning to sit still while someone else is talking?
Children must learn, because…because…Because they will need it when they become adults!
I went to the library this week and got a book The Courage to be Brilliant. I am not usually inclined to self help books, but the title appealed to me. It rang true. I know that it takes courage to push to your best, to push past the people around you. It takes courage to face people that don’t want change, and don’t want you to challenge them. Did I say Challenge? Maybe ‘shame’ them it what I really mean.
I read a bit of the book and felt pretty inspired. Let’s just say it’s been a rough month at work. On a lunch run, I brought it up.
“Ben, I got this book from the library: “The courage to be brilliant.” I was thinking about telling you about it so that you could come up with reasons against it.”
“No, that sounds like a great book! really, that seems like something that would be really good.”
I smiled at him, waiting. He went on, “But you know, you have to learn to accept that if you don’t have what it takes you really can’t be ‘brilliant’. I can practice the piano all day long and never be John Coltrane.”
I left the mixed metaphor alone and said, “That’s a logical fallacy. If I say, ‘I can never write like Shakespeare, so my writing will never be brilliant’ then I am equivocating. I place brilliance in a category that is unattainable and therefore excuse myself from ever having to try.”
Ben: “But you have to know your limitations! You can’t go around just thinking you can be brilliant because you want to. I wanted to be an animator when I was a kid, but as hard as I tried I had to accept that I was never going to make a living at it.”
“Why do you think that you have to make a living at something to be brilliant?”
“Well, I just know I’m never going to be an Ansel Adams”
Adams didn’t start out as Adams either. “Ben, I read an essay by a famous photographer and he described how he learned to do his job. He said that he was crap at first and had no talent whatsoever. The essay was called “The myth of Talent,” because he declared there is no such thing as talent. It’s all just hard work and motivation.”
“I don’t believe that. You have to have some talent to be brilliant. Like, I’m sorry Murphy, you can work as hard as you want and never be a brilliant Long Jumper.”
“But why does the standard of brilliance have to be about the audience? It’s really about personal best. Because if you don’t work towards personal best you’ll never get to the point of recognition.”
I work with this guy, so I knew it would end up like this.
One of the things that the book says is that if you accept mediocrity in your life, it spills over. That mediocrity will pull.
I have fought so hard to hard to acheive excellence..Brilliance?..in my workplace. I know the inertia I’m fighting against. And I don’t know if I’ll ever get very far.
But Mr. Clark, you had it right. Dream Big and Take Risks. I say, that goes for everything. I want to achieve brillance in my creative work. But the 40+ hours I spend at my job will drag me down in all other areas if I don’t push for excellence there too.
The kids in harlem didn’t have anyone rooting for them. And the people at work don’t even want things to get better.
That’s not the point. Applause is not the point.
I’m the point. Me trying and feeling good about myself is the point. Even though I am not in the 6th grade anymore.