A few months ago I was listening to NPR while driving, as I often do, and I heard something that I have been mulling over ever since. It was on All Things Considered, and they were talking about an artist whose name I have now forgotten. The artist had said that something that truly annoyed her was people coming up to her and complimenting her work and then adding, “I can’t even draw a straight line.”
Her response to these people is always, “Neither can I. Most artists will tell you that is what a ruler is for.”
As I said, I have thought a lot about this ever since I heard it. I just think that there are so many lessons that can be learned in that one little snippet of wisdom. One lesson especially has stood out to me quite prominently as I have considered straight lines and the development of talents.
Why is it that we feel we must put ourselves down in the light of someone else’s talent? Why does a person feel the need to tell a gifted artist that they can’t draw a straight line? What is the point in that? Why doesn’t it suffice to appreciate the talent the other has, the joy it brings to our lives and leave it at that?
I am a talented person. And guess what? Each and every one of you out there reading this is, too. You will have different talents than I do, of course. Our talents will be in various stages of development. Some will have pursued only one of their talents, and have ignored the many others that they have. Others will have developed many, but none to mastery. And, unfortunately, many will have ignored all of their talents for whatever reason. Some talents are more obvious than others, but no talent is better than another.
Also, none of us comes with absolute mastery of something. Nobody can just draw a straight line, so to speak. We work to develop our gifts and talents. Nothing bothers me more than when someone comes up to me and tells me how much they “wish” they could sing like I do. Because, guess what? Wishing I could sing did nothing for my singing voice. Maybe I started out with a bit more raw talent than the next guy, but mostly I worked my butt off to get where I am as a singer. Hours of practice and study went into it. If you really wish you could sing (or draw or write or act or solve difficult equations or fly an airplane or whatever), then you will be willing to put the ten thousand hours into it that the experts say is required to truly master a skill.
I just don’t understand why so many of us feel that if someone else has developed one of their God-given gifts, that it somehow diminishes us. It makes me kind of sad, actually, even though I have been guilty of the sin plenty of times myself. In my heart of hearts I want to be thrilled for a person who has done much with their gifts and talents. I want to enjoy the benefits of reading a great book written by an accomplished author. I want to lift my spirits by listening to the amazing music composed and performed by brilliant artists. I want to relish the beauty of a work of art made by a skilled painter. I want to be in the company of a person who has developed the gift to make others happy. I want to learn at the feet of someone who has devoted hours of study to the Gospel and has cultivated the capability to teach others well.
I don’t ever want to be caught not enjoying something wonderful because I couldn’t have done it as well. I don’t want to sit around wishing I could do something. If I really want to do it, I want to take the initiative to learn how and to practice.
But most of all, I want to be able to recognize talent in others and the talents that I have been given. Too often we waste time comparing our weaknesses to others’ strengths, when we should be focusing on our own strengths, or at least how we can turn our weakness into strength.
So let’s hear it. No comments allowed unless you can tell me at least one of your talents.