Wake up, Polly Parrot.


The American Way
by Brian Plante

Americans are raised to believe that a person can do what he or she wants with their life and become whatever they want by working hard. It's the classic Horatio Alger story: work hard and you'll get ahead. If it only were that easy. Perhaps it's un-American, but sometimes all the work in the world will not get a person the career they desire. Many of you reading this will disagree. I know it's discouraging, but some people may need to be discouraged.

I've heard it said that anybody can write. Well, I suppose that nearly anybody with a minimum of intelligence can be taught to write a sentence, put a paragraph together, and perhaps even construct a story that reads well. That doesn't mean everyone can write fiction at a professional level. There are relatively few born storytellers, but there are many more less gifted writers who produce work at the pro level by hard work and determination. Then there are a few who just don't have it. They may have the desire to become pro writers, and may have the mechanics down, but there's just something missing.

I don't feel that the number of hopeless cases is a very high percentage, though. If some teacher or perhaps another writer in a workshop ever told you that you'll never be a writer, the odds are very good (if you're at least reasonably intelligent) that the person was full of crap. The world is full of cases where beginning writers were similarly discouraged, yet persevered and became professional writers.

But I don't believe everyone can do it. I don't believe every kid who dreams of playing pro basketball can make it into the NBA. Few kids who pick up a guitar can become the next Eddie Van Halen. No, every kid does not have it in him to become the President of The United States, no matter what his parents may tell him.

But this is America, and we teach our children that they can do anything they want if they only work hard enough. Inspirational thoughts like that are a good incentive, but let's get real. Can we admit that everyone is not equally gifted? There are some kids who will never be "A" students, no matter how hard they study, some kids who are not going to play in the NBA, no matter how many hours they log on the courts, and lots of guitar players who will never become rock & roll gods.

Just because a person doesn't have it in them to reach the upper echelons of a given field doesn't mean that they can't improve. A "C" student studies and raises his average scores. A basketball player can have a pretty mean game without being drafted by the NBA, and an embarrassingly high number of guitar players manage to sell records in what passes today for pop music. Heck, even a "C" student has the chance of becoming the President once in a while (like, oh, you know . . .).

But some are hopeless cases. There are many types of "intelligences" and abilities, and every person is gifted to a greater or lesser degree. There's the intellectual sort of intelligence, but there is also "common sense" (which is probably not all that common), social abilities, political acumen, athletic potential, musical ability, artistic talent, and dozens of others.

I have always tested as "intelligent" according to whatever it is that the usual standardized test measure. I am not a born storyteller, but I have been clever and persistent enough to sell some stories at a professional level. I can program and troubleshoot computer systems reasonably well, which is how I support myself and my family. I cannot sing, nor do I have much ability in visual arts. I could practice those skills and get better at them, but there's little chance I could become good enough to make a decent living at either.

So, had I declared at a young age that I wanted to become a singer or an artist, would it have been correct or not to have discouraged me from either one of those career choices? I believe that it might be wrong to discourage someone from their dreams, even if you're pretty certain that the person has no talent in his chosen area. The American Way isn't that everyone has the right to become whatever they want, it's that everyone has the right to try.

Even if you know that someone does not have the talent to succeed in a chosen field, it is generally not your place to tell them they have no chance. Earlier, I said that some people may need discouraging. You may feel that a person with no discernable talent in a chosen field would be done a favor by your telling them give up their dream . Even if well-intentioned, that's probably not a good idea. It may seem highly unlikely, but that person may surprise you. Telling a wannabe that they'll never be a writer is a mistake. You can think it, but that's a thought best kept to yourself.

If one of my daughters has it in her head that she's going to be the next tennis phenomenon, I'll support her and let her find out for herself if she has the talent, but I'll also suggest something a bit more traditional to fall back on. She'll find out whether or not a future in tennis is ultimately possible, and she won't blame me for dashing her dreams.

Can everyone who wants to become a writer do so? I think not . . . but it's not for me to say.

Copyright © 2003 Brian Plante Count= 5275

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