Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Threefold Path to Humility

Want to cure your arrogance? I recommend going to a Venezuelan music workshop with Jackie Rago. When you teach what you know, you appear as a god to your students, flashing the same tricks you’ve developed over the years that produce an almost predictable awe and reverence. “How does he do that?” There’s always the danger of resting on your laurels, enjoying the praise just a bit too much, feeling just an ounce over a healthy dose of pride.

So go to Jackie’s class and though you may be the equivalent of the University hot-shot Doctor of Whatever with your oft-quoted published works, it’s back to kindergarten for you. Whatever you think you can do, sit next to Jackie with a pair of maracas, a plate and fork, a drum or any other percussion instrument and be prepared to be thoroughly humbled by a master musician who is thoroughly humble herself. It’s a sheer delight and an agonizing torture. Take your pick.

Arrogance and humility are kissin’ cousins. Anyone who has accomplished anything worthy has had the temerity to think that they’re up to the task to go beyond where others have traveled. That takes a can-do confidence that is essential, but can harden into arrogance without taking care. Sometimes what passes for humility is a lack of confidence, a shallow faith in one’s god-like powers. Perhaps true humility only arises after passing through arrogance. Have the courage of your convictions and state them, live them, with passion. But sometimes it’s good to stop talking and listen and it’s always good to habitually put yourself in the world of beginner’s mind. In my work as a music teacher and a musician, I have three strategies that help keep me properly humbled.

  1. Be a Perpetual Student: We are rightfully satisfied with what we know and the effort we made to know it. But keep one foot in the world of what we don’t yet know and enjoy the freshness of the kindergarten mind. In some ways, just keeping up with the latest technology makes us perpetual beginners by necessity. But go further. Learn French or Farsi or bone up on the history of American musical theater or civil rights or the collected works of Marcel Proust. As soon as you get to the Head of the Class, purposely pick the card that sends you back to kindergarten.

  1. Choose a difficult craft: The world of music is large and our accomplishments are small. Always something to improve on. We can only master what we spend 10,000 hours practicing and there are not enough 10,000 hours to go around to master it all. So take that Venezuelan music class or Indian tabla drumming or didjeridoo technique while also improving the details of your chosen slice. Same goes for the Orff approach. Too much to master in one lifetime, so as soon as you improve your recorder technique, go to that dance class or lecture on motivation by Daniel Pink.

  1. Teach children: Giving adult workshops, I’m in that comfort zone of sharing something I’ve learned to do well appreciated by people who need some of what I can offer and thus, so appreciative. But then I go back to teaching my kids, who couldn’t care less about your credentials and theories. They’re in your class saying in their behavioral way, “I got issues and challenges and quirky needs and I don’t care how well-crafted your lesson is. I’m hyped up like I’ve overdosed on Red Bull or depressed flatter than a smushed pancake because so-and-so wouldn’t let me in that game. How are you going to deal with that?!

And so I arrogantly offer these humble thoughts, humbly offer these arrogant thoughts and stop here so I can practice some Venezuelan rhythms. 

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