Why Stories About Talent Piss Me Off
A Passionate Rant For The Value Of Effort
“Westerners often laud their children as ‘talented’ or ‘gifted’, while Asian parents highlight the importance of hard work. And in fact, research performed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has found that the way parents offer approval affects the way children perform, even the way they feel about themselves.”
– Amy Chua
I was asked about recommendations on books about “a gifted person attending a school for gifted people.”
You know when something pisses you off and you get that little twitch in a nerve?
I managed to contain myself and went in the completely opposite direction with the answer.
Here’s a modified version of it.
I suggest that you join Goodreads and add the books you’ve enjoyed so far. You’ll get some great recommendations there.
Also, if you start interacting with people there you’ll probably get even more and better recommendations.
You could skip my rant and simply look at the books I recommend at the bottom.
They’re non-fiction and offer a counterpoint to the books you’re actually looking for.
Oh, baby I’m coming at this with an agenda!
Now, on to the thing about the thing!
Damn you Xavier!
I’ve read and/or seen the movies the books have spawned and enjoyed them for what they are. But…
I frickin’ hate these kinds of stories.
Not because they’re inherently bad but because they often do a lousy job of guiding the audience to the core point.
The lesson people often derive from them are: “Oh! Only special and talented people can do this or that. I wish I was special or chosen like that!”
Fuck. That. Shit.
This is highly personal and I don’t expect people to agree with what I’m about to say.
I’ve seen too many kids (and adults) misinterpret what these stories are meant to be telling and who knows what the unintended consequences are?
The ironic thing? His name is “Domino”.
I had a conversation about maths with a friend of mine which might serve to explain this.
We were talking about education and how different it was when we were growing up.
When the subject of math came up I explained that by using fMRI researchers scanned the brains of English and Chinese speaking people solving math problems.
You know that incredibly racist thing about asians being good at math? Well, it’s kinda, sorta true. It’s more cultural than genetic though.
What’s actually happening is that while the English speakers rely heavily on processing the information with a linguistic part of the brain the Chinese speakers bypass this and process it in the visual part of the brain.
What the actual fuck?
I’m with Professor Snape on this one.
Well, there are many factors at play here.
1) The Chinese language, both spoken and written, has an entirely different construct and relationship with numbers.
2) There is culturally a heavy emphasis on mathematics. Some say this is related to agriculture.
3) The use of the abacus. I think this is the main reason why the language center isn’t activated as much. Instead of thinking in words they visualize moving the beads around. They’ve got a more kinesthetic relationship to solving the problem.
Knot even sorry.
So, why am I talking about this?
Simply because this is the reality of what’s going on. There are people who are more adept at certain things. Genetics do play a role.
Let’s take Michael Jordan as an example. Amazing basketball player. He had the genes for it and at the same time also the tenacity and willingness to develop his skills.
Did he do as well in baseball? Nope.
The reason for this is because the skills weren’t transferrable. His coaches commended him for his determination to become better. But at 30 and trying to catch up to players who’d been developing since their childhood there was little chance of him reaching the level he enjoyed in basketball.
Had he focused on baseball in his youth I have little doubt he would’ve been an amazing player in the MLB instead. Barring injuries or other unforeseen circumstances of course.
Now, if he’d dreamed of being a jockey? Wow, that… Jeez… That would’ve… Well, thank God he didn’t.
This. Is. Awesome. For more visit: http://www.mattstjohn.tumblr.com/
Sure, we’re born with a specific strand of DNA and/or handicaps. We’re also born into a certain time and environment. Those things can be seen as obstacles or advantages that are handed to us.
We might even be born and have a high potential for academic achievement, or physical achievement or social achievement. But if our environment isn’t set up to reward those behaviors or traits then they’re of little use and wither.
I’m thinking here of people who are experiencing social turmoil, war, dictatorship etc.
Now, on the opposite side if we have those gifts and are in an evironment where they’re allowed to flourish? Wow, then we’re really the only ones who can screw it up.
Who’s got two thumbs and the ability to screw it up? This guy!
My point is this. The stories you’ve mentioned are about people who’ve been handed these genetic or social advantages.
There are people around them who might be putting them down or the characters themselves believe they’re not worthy. Those are obstacles to overcome and we all love an underdog.
But that’s not what makes them special. We all have assets that we can use. The reason we look up to the characters in the stories is because they ultimately overcome the obstacles and live up to their true potential.
That’s something everyone can do given the right circumstances. If the circumstances aren’t “just right”?
“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.” — Napoleon Hill
Fuck it. Do as well as you can given those circumstances.
Wishing things were different than they are at this moment doesn’t change a damn thing.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make things better in the future. It just means we have to look at the situation, accept that it is what it is and then ask ourselves questions like:
“What can I do to change it?”
“How can I change it?”
“Who can I ask for help?”
“Who can I help?”
“Where are the people I need?”
“Where are the people who need me?” and so on.
Once we’ve answered some of those questions we know what needs to be done. Then we need to take action on them.
This might not be the answer you were looking for, but it might be the answer you need.
Know the feels. Now eat your damn “Whiskas”!
Now I’ve ranted for long enough and here’s the list of books:
- Malcolm Gladwell — “Outliers” & “The Tipping Point”
- Simon Sinek — “Start With Why”
- Carol Dweck — “Mindset”
- Maxwell Maltz — “Psycho-Cybernetics”
- Josh Kaufman — “The First 20 Hours”
- David Epstein — “The Sports Gene”
- Robert Greene — “Mastery”
- Joshua Foer — “Moonwalking With Einstein”
- Daniel H. Pink — “Drive”
- Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner — “Think Like A Freak”
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi — “Flow”
- Austin Kleon — “Steal Like An Artist” & “Show Your Work”
- Brené Brown — “The Power Of Vulnerability” & “The Gifts Of Imperfection”
Plot twist? The person had already read all the books I suggested. But that doesn’t matter. Perhaps they could be of use to someone else?
If noone gained anything I atleast clarified my own views on the matter to, well, myself.
Wait, was that the lessons I was supposed to learn?
Can you think of a situation where you were trying to help someone else and ended up teaching yourself something?
Let me know in the comments and hit me up on Twitter.
Have a kick-ass ₢eative day!