Chaplain's thought for the week
Revd Tom asks ‘who do you want to be?’
In his book, ‘You are awesome’, Matthew Syed encourages us to look beneath the surface of those whom we’d be inclined to apply the label ‘genius’. He says that when we do so, we find that it’s never as simple as noting that they were ‘born gifted’ or ‘naturally good’
The great composer Mozart, for example, is often talked about as a child prodigy who was writing pieces for the violin and piano by the age of six. Surely he was born a musical genius. In actual fact, Mozart’s father was also a composer and performer and an expert teacher, who put his son through intensive musical training from the age of three; by the time he was six, he’d probably practised for around 3,500 hours.
The same could be said for many others in all sorts of other fields. “So”, says Matthew Syed, “over to you…” We might now turn our attention to how we going to get brilliant and be successful.
As inspiring as all of that sounds, I’ve got a bit of a problem with it. To me, there’s a sense here that being brilliant and achieving success is what life’s all about. Many people wouldn’t dream of questioning that assumption.
But I think it’s worth reflecting on. I think it’s worth digging a little deeper into what life’s all about and searching into our motivations.
What’s motivating the desire for success and brilliance? What’s going on deeper down which might make you want to succeed? Who are you really seeking success for? And most importantly, what person do you actually want to become?
All of these questions go far deeper than considering how you can get brilliant at stuff. Often when we dig a little deeper we find for many people that the reason they want to be successful, the reason they want to be brilliant, the reason they want to achieve, is because deep down they’re seeking the approval of others. Perhaps it’s because they want to please their parents. Perhaps it’s because they want to be liked by their peers. Perhaps it’s because they fear that if they don’t achieve or be successful or look brilliant they’ll be seen as worthless in the eyes of others.
So much of what we do and think and say as human beings, is done with an eye on the question ‘what will others think of me?’ All this makes good sense of our online behaviour (and I’m talking about adult, not just teenage behaviour here!): How can we portray ourselves in the best possible light? How can we get the highest number of likes? How can we construct ourselves in a way which we gain the largest amount of approval from others?
Jesus was an astute observer of human behaviour. In one of his parables we hear about this religious teacher who is praying; but he’s not genuinely praying to God, he’s praying to be impressive to others. He says, “Thank God I’m not like other people… I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” He’s praying like that so he’ll be heard by others and get their approval. He’s listing his achievements with the sole purpose of being impressive.
In this story, the religious guy is contrasted with a tax collector, the kind of person who would have been despised by others in those days. He stands far off so that no-one can see him, and he quietly says, “God, be merciful to me.” He’s not trying to be impressive in front of anyone else; he knows his faults and he hasn’t got anything to prove.
In the play A Man for all Seasons there’s a scene in which the young, ambitious Richard Rich is seeking success, fame and fortune. He goes to Sir Thomas Moore for advice about how to achieve his aims, and Moore says: ‘You should be a teacher, Rich.’
Rich looks disgusted. ‘If I was a teacher, then who would know?’
Moore responds: ‘You would know, your pupils would know and God would know. A pretty good audience that.’
It’s worth asking ourselves, from time to time, what audience we’re trying to impress… but also what audience we actually need.
Who do you want to be?