Who we become in life is partly what we do with the gifts we are given by God. What we do with the gifts we are given is partly owed to the encouragement we receive along the way.
The film “The Last Quartet” recounts a moment in the life of cellist Peter Mitchell. Mitchell taught at Julliard but is battling Parkinson’s disease.
Mitchell tells about his relationship with the great Spanish cellist, Pablo Casals. Their first encounter found the 20-year-old Mitchell silent before the master.
“I was so intimidated I could barely speak. Casals must’ve sensed it because, instead of a chat, he asked me to play. He requested the prelude to the Fourth Bach Suite. I took a deep breath, I began, the notes started to flow, the music’s in the air, and it was the worst music I’d ever made. I played so badly, I got halfway and had to stop.
“Bravo,” he said, “well done.”
“Then he asked me to play the allemande. A second chance! I never played worse.
“Wonderful. Splendid.” He praised me.
“When I left that night, I felt terrible about my performances, but what really bothered me wasn’t my playing, it was Casals. The insincerity.
“Years later, I met him in Paris, and by then I was a professional, we’d played together. We became acquaintances, and one evening, over a glass of wine, I confessed to him what I thought was his insincerity all those years ago. And he got angry. His demeanor changed, he grabbed his cello.
“Listen!” he said. And Casals played a specific phrase from the Bach prelude.
“Didn’t you play that fingering? You did, and it was novel to me. It was good! And here, in this passage from the allemande, didn’t you attack it with an up-bow like this?” Casals played the passage.
“Casals emphasized the good stuff. The things he enjoyed. He encouraged. And for the rest … leave that to those who judge by counting faults.
‘’I can be grateful,” he said, “and so must you be, for even one singular, one transcendent moment.”
Parents and grandparents, teachers and preachers, bosses and coaches are positioned to influence young people for good or ill. We all want to coax the best from them, but how we do so can make all the difference.
Criticism that only finds faults tends to build a mentality in the young person that focuses on avoiding mistakes. It breeds caution. It makes one tentative. Criticism (not a negative word) that points out strengths tends to build confidence in the young person that breeds courage and risk-taking.
That’s not to say that discipline never involves addressing bad behavior or poor decisions. But people tend to grow in the direction of the guidance they receive.
St. Paul commanded children to obey their parents, but then he added this caution: “Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart.” Provoking can happen in many ways, but always focusing on what they are doing wrong is surely one of them.
Discouragement means losing heart. Conversely, encouragement puts heart into someone. Whether in the home, on the playing field, in the office or school, those in authority want to bring the best out of their charges.
Focusing on the good stuff is good mentoring.
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