What We Get Wrong About Honesty

That it’s mostly telling the truth to others. But being honest with one’s self is a more essential starting point, and because we lack any semblance of objectivity, far more difficult.

None of us are ever completely honest with ourselves. Meaning we are loathe to accept our differences which makes self acceptance a constant struggle.

Case in point. I loved, loved, loved this short essay titled “An Emotional Reunion Between Cello and Cellist”. Russell had me after her opening paragraph:

“On a recent Thursday, Matt Haimovitz, the forty-seven-year-old virtuoso cellist, packed an empty instrument case into the back of his car and drove from his home, in Montreal, to a friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side, where he’d be crashing. The case was for Haimovitz’s rare, multimillion-dollar cello, which he calls Matteo—after Matteo Goffriller, the seventeenth-century Venetian luthier who built it. He had played it for thirty years, until, fifteen months earlier, while giving a lesson to a promising Canadian student, he dropped it, and the cello’s neck snapped. Since then, the instrument had been undergoing extensive repairs by a team of five luthiers at Reed Yeboah Fine Violins, near Columbus Circle. Now the shop had called to say that Matteo was ready for release.”

If I’m honest with myself, I want something resembling what those six people have—Haimovitz and the five luthiers—a singleminded focus on one thing that animates their lives. One thing that gives them an overwhelming purpose for being. Even a little bit of flow.

Put differently, I want to love something the way Haimovitz loves his cello. I am fascinated by people with distinct passions, often wishing I was one of them. It doesn’t matter how esoteric or far removed the passions are from my life; interior design, locomotive trains, the Spanish language; I still look on with envy.

This year I’ll cycle somewhere between 4,500 and 5,000 miles. Friends ride 10,000-12,000. I like cycling, they love it. Some people read a book or more a week. I like reading, they love it. Some commit 60+ hours a week to their jobs because they like their work so much they often loose track of time. I prefer being on sabbatical. Some bloggers have huge readerships in part because they are laser focused on a particular topic. In contrast, the Humble Blog, a reflection of my continuously distracted pea brain, is all over the place.

Hiking Burroughs Mountain Trail last weekend, I listened to my friends excitedly discuss plant nomenclature and geology and wondered, “What’s wrong with me?” By which I meant, “Why aren’t I equally curious? Why am I content not knowing the name of the beautiful flower or understanding how the awe-inspiring landscape was formed? Why aren’t I similarly passionate about labeling and understanding the natural world?”

But then I stop to think that my cycling obsessed friends don’t run and swim. And maybe it’s okay that my interests are more disparate, and therefore, less intensive. Wide-ranging interests enable me to ask more questions, connect with more people, create a relatively diverse and interesting social network.

How fortunate that everyone is wired differently. Maybe the singleminded people of the world, the Haimovitz’s, would tell me sometimes there are downsides to being obsessively focused on one thing.

Maybe I’m okay and you’re okay.

 

Cultivating Passion

From The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner.

“Michael Jung. . . believes that ‘there are only three reasons why people work or learn. There’s push, which is a need, threat or risk, but this is now a less plausible or credible motivating force [in the industrialized countries] than it has been, even for the disadvantaged. There’s transfer of habits—habits shaped by social norms and traditional routines. But this, too, is becoming weaker now, because of the erosion of traditional authority and social values. That leaves only pull—interest, desire, passion.’ I understand Jung to be talking about three kinds of human motivation. Physiological need is one—the need for food and shelter and so on. But he suggests that with high rates of employment and government safety nets, this is less of a motivational force in many young people’s lives than it once was. The desire to adhere to social norms is another human motivation that is weaker than it used to be, because traditional sources of authority, religion and family, have less influence on young people today. Jung believes that it is the third motivational force—interest, desire, and passion—that increasing numbers of young people are seeking and responding to in school and at the workplace.”

We tend to be products of our environments so I wouldn’t describe the transfer of habits/adherence to social norms argument quite like Jung and Wagner. The influence of significant others, for better or worse, is still there. My clearest childhood memories of my dad are of him pacing the house as he memorized his sales presentations.  Five or six at the time, the impact was indelible. Every family has momentum, whether positive or negative. Because of my parents, ours was positive which is not synonymous with perfect. If a critical mass of adults in a young person’s life aren’t working and planning for a better future, we can’t expect that young person to care much about school work, continuing their education, or making a positive difference in the world.

If we agree that young people are mostly motivated by interest, desire, and passion, as I’m inclinded to do, we need to rethink teaching, coaching, and parenting. In his book, Wagner tells Kate’s story, a senior in high school. “Kate suffered from too much of the wrong kind of adult authority,” Wagner writes. “She was overmanaged for success—success being narrowly defined as getting into a college her parents and teachers considered to be top-notch and having a high paying job.”

What good are high standardized test scores and good grades if a student lacks specific interests, desires, and passion? What if they learn to “do school” but fail to become passionate about anything?

The seventeen and eighteen year-olds that I know are striving to get into the best colleges possible. But what makes one college better than another? US News and Report offers pseudo-empirical answers based upon numbers colleges get good at manipulating, but there’s more art to educational excellence than science. Maybe the best college is the one where faculty and staff help students discover their interests and desires. They advise and teach passionately; consequently, students become more passionate about writing, or a language, a culture, an environmental challenge, a historical period, a social movement, global politics, law, or medicine. I’d like to see USN&R measure staff and faculty passion for advising and teaching.

If I did a focus group with my daughter and her twelfth grade friends, I suspect all of them could identify things they like, but only a few could explain in any detail what they are most passionate about and why. And surely those few that are ahead of the curve need guidance on how to turn their passions into purposeful vocations. My wish for my daughter and her friends is that over the next four or five years they become more passionate and begin translating their passions into meaningful, rewarding work.