Thursday, February 01, 2007

Talent Dynasties

I have noted over the years that families often create "dynasties" in a certain profession (take the early Adamses in politics--or the current Bushes). These dynasties span several generations, with multiple family members participating, admittedly with varying degrees of success.

I hadn't thought much about it in the past--at least not beyond saying, "See, some aspects of talent are clearly genetic."

Sunday, though, Caleb sat down to "write a church song to put into my hymn book." And he DID. I was astounded. We've always made music notation software available to the kids to play with (and they have). We've always encouraged them to write down their thoughts and ideas, not just type what they've seen before, and not just express them verbally. But it completely surprised both of us when Caleb turned on the music notation software and began composing. Really composing. He would put in a few notes, listen to it, and say, "That doesn't sound like a church song," and change the ones he didn't like. He even was changing things like taking off the "dotted" part when he used a dotted whole note and it "was too long." Then he wrote lyrics and learned how to plug them in on the software, and was mildly distressed when his song was, as he deemed it, too short. We told him about other short "church songs" and then he was satisfied.

And then a whole bunch of realizations came. Families probably make dynasties not just because of talent. It probably is because of the environment, too. See, now when I say it, I think, "Duh...." Of course. When the parent/s are involved in something, there is a whole intensive course of education in the subject going on every day around children as they grow. The materials are available. The way you fit it into your life is modeled. The actual activity is also modeled. The opportunities to ask questions and wonder and experiment are around all the time instead of when you happen to get exposed in a classroom setting. And the activity is seen as a normal part of life instead of as something unique and unusual. Our children, for example, were completely baffled this summer when we told them that most kids' daddies don't sing on stage on a regular basis. NOT doing the activity was a foreign concept.

So the inclinations to pursue music may come from inborn talent. But the unfettered ability to pursue (and think about) it come from either inborn stubbornness or upbringing. I have known for a long time that people get into music careers in three ways: you are born into a music family, you marry into a music family, or you have unusually enormous amounts of talent combined with stubborn hard work and a great deal of luck. I used to think that's because of the "industry connections", but now I think it's so much more than that. It's a whole lifestyle thing, including all the ins and outs of creativity that most people don't consider part of the "industry."

It's not just that Caleb could think of a song. It's that he could do that, and the software was readily available, and that Tim knows how to use the software and could answer his questions, and that, in Caleb's world, it is absolutely NORMAL to sit down and write a song to express his feelings. Just like in a political family's world, it is absolutely NORMAL to go to political meetings, fight for what you believe, make speeches, and think about how the government is running in an active "I can do something about this" way (as opposed to the more common "I can complain about this" way).

Growing up in my family, it was normal to analyze things and then verbally express your ideas about what was going on. The tools for communication were around us all the time, and it was normal to communicate things, and think about what other people were communicating verbally, physically, etc. And now ALL my siblings have grown up into communicative adults. We like to talk. We like to think about ideas. And we like to express ourselves--through writing, art, speech, etc. We also grew up in a world where it was normal to do research--and, as adults, we all do lots of research, all in different fields. But getting into research and learning was not foreign to us, just like getting into music isn't for Caleb. Family dynasty of education and communication.

So then I realized that all those "mormon intellectuals" who have pointed to the "spiritual dynasties" in the church as evidence that it really is "who you know" that "gets you status" in the Church have it REALLY all wrong. It's not that the children and grandchildren of Hyrum Smith became leaders because they knew all the right people. It's because spirituality, like music, is something that can pass through families in this "dynastic" sense. Children, raised by righteous parents, learn what that means on an intimate level, just like Caleb understands what it means to be a musician. When children are raised by spiritual, in tune parents, they learn how to solve problem with prayer and faith, how to receive revelation, how to respond to crisis, etc. The children are raised in an environment where spiritual things are Normal, and the tools are readily available to them, and the behaviors and attitudes are modeled, questions are answered on a day-by-day basis, the reasons to pursue it are clear, etc.

Raised in this kind of environment, it's clear why there are "dynasties" in the church. It's not because of who you know. It's because living as a righteous person is a skill just like living as a musician is--and people raised in the culture have so much more chance of succeeding in it.

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