The importance of humility

I never involve myself in discussions regarding the existence or otherwise of God because I know I’ll become involved in bottomless speculation. If we set out to discover how or, especially why, we all arrived here we could ponder the issues for a very long time with little, if anything, to show for our efforts. If, on the other hand, we try and understand what is actually happening, so that we can extend our understanding and, hopefully, put it to practical use, we’ll make progress from day one. The concept of ‘inspiration’ versus ‘craft’ has cropped up a number of times on here when I’ve been involved in discussions with other composers and musicologists. The word inevitably takes on a different meaning when it’s allied to beliefs.

Of course, when people refer to their ‘faith’ or their ‘belief’ it’s a stop-all argument unless we say ‘but what if there isn’t a God’ which takes us back to square one. But we have to ask the question because we don’t know. We really don’t.

I’d prefer to keep my religious (and political) opinions out of the band room, where they have no place, but I fervently believe in Christian principles without which I believe civilization is doomed.

The one aspect above all others I cherish is the emphasis on humility, which is very important to anyone, in any field of endeavour, if they expect to progress. Unfortunately, as we all witness the divisions in the Church regarding, for example, the role of women in the clergy, we find that those who should know better are the worst offenders. Religious leaders become so convinced in the rightness of their cause they effectively banish all opposition. Whenever we align ourselves with closed-system ideologies, the ‘isms’, we advertise our own mediocrity. Unfortunately, many intelligent, well read and educated people are guilty of this.

Terrorists somehow think themselves into a state of mind that justifies killing and maiming innocent men, women and children. But some terrorists are highly intelligent. The French, who are sometimes accused of being too intellectual, decided that the only solution to the inequalities of the time was to behead all the aristocracy! My grandfather was born in Yorkshire, the English capital of common sense, and often used to say ‘there’s nowt so queer as folk’. Not surprisingly, he was a brass band fanatic.

So what’s this all about? Why am I, a musician, going this route?

This is why. I recently cancelled my membership of a composers’ forum. I tend to wander, in my replies to a post, away from the exact nature of the topic. Not too far, and I always beat a retreat when I can see the thread going off the rails. You see, it’s human nature to compartmentalize our thinking because it helps us to deal with everyday realities such as ‘right/wrong’ ‘true/untrue’ etc. Unfortunately, as any scientist knows, it’s impossible to be so precise. A theory can never be proven. It remains in place until we modify it or, sometimes, abandon it altogether. Not only that, a blinkered approach will stunt our development. Albert Einstein always warned against this.

But this wasn’t the main problem. I received a post from the moderator that I should keep my replies relevant and when I tried to defend myself I received another warning that any more irrelevant posts would be deleted. Both comments from the moderator were in bold type which should be avoided in forums because of its apparently hostile intent. It’s very easy to attack people long-range either through the anonymity of the internet or by phone. I avoid comments I’d be unprepared to make man-to-man.

In other words I’d been publicly humiliated and barred from a public defence.

Back to humility…

Too many of the contributors to forums adopt a pompous, self-regarding stance. I have a monumental work by one of the foremost mathematical physicists alive. One of the greatest ever, in my opinion. The modesty and humility of this man becomes evident by his use of his name, pure and simple, on the cover of his book. He could use a string of letters after his name but he prefers to allow his reputation to precede him. Try telling him that you’re certain of anything and you’ll probably receive a wry glance in return.

Humility is especially important to a musician. Many begin their lives convinced of their own genius but, as they encounter more and more talented people, they slowly come to realize, and grudgingly accept, their place in the scheme of things. Young musicians, especially, are worth watching. Whatever they lack in experience they more than make up for with their fresh ideas. As a friend and contemporary of mine commented a few years ago ‘they start where we leave off’. (And he’s one of the best trombonists I ever sat next to.)

I have a special interest in all this and I believe (for what it’s worth!) that people with a keenly held personal agenda identify their beliefs with themselves so that, if you attack the belief, you attack the person, too. This is why history is made by minorities, not the moderate majority.

So am I pleased with myself about resigning the forum (which shall remain nameless)? We’ll see. I began to think I resembled the small boy who picked the ball up and stomped home when he wasn’t allowed to win.

Time will tell. It’s only a forum, anyway, and what’s that in the great scheme of things?

   

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4 thoughts on “The importance of humility

  1. There are always other forums. Leaving one can be a door opening to time for another. I’ve been spending the past few months reading a lot of tech blogs and sites leading up to my recent purchase of a new computer. Now that I have made the plunge and laid out my hard-earned dollars those places that so fascinated me with their claims and biases — and the flame wars in the replies — suddenly seem so petty and irrelevant. I’ve finally made my choice and feel no need to defend it. Time to move on.

    All my adult life I have enjoyed playing with children. I forget all about my adult thoughts and concerns and embrace their perspective and innocence. It is a fun release. Mind you that in the process rules are made in this play and I test the waters of what the little marvel before me decides what is fair and how we should go about doing things. It is the most delightful way to learn new ways of approaching play. Everything is play if you allow yourself to see it that way.

    Teaching is like that. I tell my students that I am their employee and my job is to help them do what they want. I even sit them in my chair and I sit myself down at the piano and have them tell me either what to do or what they want to do. This shows me where they are at including their perspective of understanding. How can I take them from point A to point B if I don’t know exactly where point A is? I have had one adult student say that I am the first teacher he has ever had where the teacher is the one ever sitting at the piano instead of him. How can one demonstrate away from the instrument? How can one vocalize the thought process while doing otherwise? My hands are here but I’m now looking over there and I move my hands to the note I need to strike it. My students are in the teacher’s chair about 20% of each lesson.

    I don’t concern myself with faith, although I very much try to do right by people. Firmly believing in a God or firmly being an atheist are both indefensible positions, but trying to impose your beliefs on people transcends rightness or wrongness and falls squarely into fruitless. All one can do is offer one’s views and attempt to understand someone else’s. If there can be no learning or compromise either way then it is time to part company.

      • Who are “they”, and what did you try to “reply” to? I have noticed that when you try to post on my blog from your Amazon book account your comments are flagged as spam and I have to click a few things to allow them — each time! Maybe replying while logged in HERE will give you better results.

        I do assume that if I directly review your book at Amazon that you will not be allowed to respond in that particular place. There I will be kind, if kindness is what it takes to give a positive review. I don’t think I will have to make an effort to do that.

        As I go through your book in my own blog I very much want your comments if you care to share them. My set perspective will necessarily blind me to at least some of what you have written. This can be a rare opportunity for me to learn, even as I take other bloggers to task along certain conceptual lines. I really am afraid I’m going to make some people angry as I move forward because in talking about perfecting a craft the best way to describe some of that is in demonstrating how people are not.

      • Sorry to confuse you. One thing I’ve learned anew in blogs and forums is how easy it is to forget that the person at the other end has a ‘blank sheet’ and the onus is on the communicator to make his or her self clear.

        ‘They’ were the forum administrators.

        I’ve only replied to you via WordPress, so I’m puzzled by the problems you’ve had.

        Thanks for sanctioning responses. I wasn’t sure how to go on that.

        The reason there’s no ebook version is that, with study books of this kind, I’ve always found that long sessions online are arduous and eye-bashing so it’s good to have an ink-on-paper version. The reader can sit comfortably and use a pencil to underscore important bits and make other comments in the margin. But the main reason is the huge amount of work involved in making the complex QuarkXPress page layouts work in ebook formats. I wouldn’t like to peruse my book on a phone or even a small tablet. PDF would work fine on your desktop computer. I didn’t go that route to avoid undermining the perceived value of a thick(ish) book with full colour sleeve. Not only that but the book took six years in all to prepare and that doesn’t include the extended version you now have. I sold one book this month (yours, thanks!) so there would have to be some incentive to change too much (including CD sounds).

        I don’t think I can respond on Amazon but I wouldn’t anyway. Incidentally, the existing star ratings were unsolicited. They don’t all appear on the US Amazon site. There are more comments on the website.

        I’m looking forward to your comments, especially since you tend to think outside the box in a refreshingly candid style.

        Speak soon, JM.

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