Thursday, September 6, 2012

Winning and the Orchestra

In the current issue of the Intelligent Optimist magazine, which I highly recommend, Ben Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and co-author of The Art of Possibility, also talks about winners and losers in the same way I did in my last post.

Talking about the importance of intelligent optimism to creating winners, Zander asks if anyone knows a five year old pessimist? Most of us don’t. But, “around 6, children enter what I call the world of the downward spiral.  At school you start getting compared to other children, and suddenly it matters to parents that one child does better than another.  Before school, your family gets excited about everything you do. But then you get grades and with grades come fear and insecurity.


“There’s nothing objective about a grade. It’s an invented measurement to decide that one child is better than another. Of course that’s nobody’s intention. Everyone will say that education is about opening children’s hearts and minds to new experiences. But grades stand in the way. It is a devastating experience for a child. Unfortunately, from that time onward the deck is stacked against [winning as an] intelligent optimist.


“Most motivational material, images and metaphors are from war or competitive sports, from competitive situations where the aim is to kill or beat the other person. It’s extraordinary how many metaphors for war we have in our language.”


Zander offers the symphony orchestra as the metaphor for the future. “The aim of the orchestra is not to win; the aim is to make sure that every voice is heard. If both the trumpet and viola are to be heard, the trumpet has to listen to viola because the trumpet is much louder. This requires great discipline. An orchestra is a conversation about ‘we’.”


We need more stories about ‘we’, community, inclusion and cooperation; about both the individual and the community, not either the individual or the community. We need more metaphors from endeavors like the orchestra and less from war and competitive sports. We need a bit more both/and thinking, and less either/or thinking.  Of course, both kinds of thinking have a place. But clearly we’ve spent too much time and energy on the either/ or and it’s time for the pendulum to swing back towards the ‘we’ and both/and.

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