Sunday, May 06, 2012

How much does someone else's opinion matter?

I'm on vacation this week, so I don't have a sermon of my own to post. Once I return from vacation and secure permission from Pastor Fish to post the sermon he preached at St. Peter in my absence, I'll post his sermon.

In the meantime, here's something I've been chewing on for about a month. 

I'm about to start writing my third novel. I won't ever be a full-time writer. I love being a parish pastor too much to set it aside for what is, for me, a hobby--no matter how much I enjoy that hobby. Anyway, I've taken to reading some writer blogs over the past few years. Sometimes I wonder if it's just a waste of time, but every so often there's a golden nugget to be mined from the midst of all the garbage, something that gives me an insight that helps me as a writer. Sometimes there's even something that helps me as a pastor. 

This time, such was not the case. Here's something I read last month that has since been knocking around my head.

I don’t understand those people who let what someone says discourage them.  I love the classic story, told in various formats:  The young man wanted to be a great violinist.  The master came to town and the young man wrangled an audition with him.  He played his heart out.  When he was done he asked the master what he thought.  The master said:  “Not enough fire.” The young man was crushed.  He quit the violin and pursued a different career.  Many years later he met the master at a function.  He told him about the audition and the result.  The master was surprised and said:  “I tell everyone that.  If my saying that was enough to stop you, then you really didn’t have enough fire.”  No one can stop you, but you. [Copied from this blog post on the Genreality writing blog; emphasis mine.]

I've never met the source of that story (that I know of), and I've never met the writer who shared that story on the blog. But more than once I've heard something similar to what this "master" said to his student. Some people call it motivation. Others call it reverse psychology. Some people buy that crap.

In reality, it is what's commonly known as bullying. We tell our children not to be bullies, and we tell our children to stand up to bullies. But what do we do when the people who are meant to protect and guide us are the very ones who are shoving us to the ground? Strangely, we give them the title of "mentor" or "teacher", and we grant them tenure, and we honor them as leaders in their fields.

It's possible I'm too sensitive to these things. After all, I've been there. I've been bullied by classmates and I've been "motivated" by teachers. I had a teacher for "Government" my Senior year of high school--a teacher who was student favorite by all accounts--who told me I had a lousy work ethic and wouldn't amount to anything. (Amusingly, my Senior year of high school, I was taking a full class load, participating in elective activities for the first time, and had a job where I worked 10 hours a week and volunteered on top of that.) Maybe he would look at how far he might think I've come since then and think that I have him to thank for my success. If that's what he wants, I won't disabuse him of his delusion. What he and others like him don't understand is that the trust people place in their teachers and mentors leaves them vulnerable to the slightest word of disapproval, and their brand of "motivation" can leave their charges battered and broken. 

Yeah, I know: Butch up, princess. Because that helps, too. 

I'm not saying that we need to coddle those who come to us for teaching, for advice, for guidance. We do them no favors when we give them everything without making them work for it. But words have power, and a writer should understand that better than most. 

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can break my psyche.

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