There’s a scene in the film I mentioned before, A Late Quartet, when one of the quartet members is telling his music students about the time as a striving young musician himself he had to play for a legendary maestro, his idol. And in spite of his having played terribly, twice, the great musician, purported to be Pablo Casals, praised his playing royally. Years later, as a successful cellist in his own right he met his hero again and expressed his dismay that such a genius as he would praise a student for such obviously terrible playing. But, the maestro responded by pointing out to him how novel his playing had been, how much he’d learned from some unique approaches he’d employed learning his craft that needed encouragement. This story was relayed to make a point to the class as it was erupting into complaint and criticism of each other for bad playing.
It struck a chord with me, thinking of all the time we spend, I spend, focused on what’s wrong. Some say these days in particular have become unusually acrimonious. Why are we so preoccupied with the bad side, the flaws and mistakes we see in life, in people, our friends, our loved ones? Why aren’t we grateful for the good part, especially when it’s usually the major part? I don’t really know the answer to that question, but I do know I’ve grown increasingly exasperated with myself for the negative thoughts that pop up continually especially about other people.
A few years ago, something came over me suddenly as I found myself reacting yet again to the bad behavior of someone, some celebrity probably. I found myself saying: “I don’t want to do this anymore!” I don’t want to give in to fault finding anymore. I’ve no idea where that came from but it was like a load lifted off me, a load of heaviness dissolving. Faultfinding is exhausting! I can’t say all the negative energy and criticism has completely stopped, but a lot of kneejerk reaction has diminished. It’s so much more comfortable to notice the good side, let the rest work itself out in its own time, in them, and also in me. A famous woman, a religious leader in the nineteenth century, Mary Baker Eddy, apparently said that while the world spent it’s time complaining about the forty percent that was wrong in most people, she went to work trying to work with the remaining sixty percent part that was alright!
My father was undiscriminating in his disapproval of people. Anyone and everyone. Me included. His wives, both current and past. Just about everyone, except perhaps his father, whom I never met and had heard little about until my father’s last years. It wasn’t until after my father passed away that I understood, it was his self-esteem, so low it was only by putting others down that he could see himself up. Is that not one reason we all do it, to cover up our own shortcomings?
It makes that story in the film all the more poignant, and important. The great man knew his young protégé was feeling bad enough about himself, about blowing his great opportunity to impress, the last thing he needed was a royal blow to his already bruised ego.
So, for my part, I’m slowly moving away from watching the clouds instead of the sun peeking behind them. And also trying to remember none of us suffers from too much praise. Indeed, who’s to say if some well-placed and sincere compliment might not help some young student toward a successful and happy life? I can feel good about that!