We’ve all heard the phrase that it only takes one bad apple to spoil the whole barrel. It might seem a little too fantastic until experience proves otherwise. I can say that it only takes one person to ruin the chemistry of a working group, if not induce widespread downright hostility.
I want to focus, however, on the flip side of this rule. Some months ago I was having a difficult run, when one of these South Philly dudes popped his head out the door with words of encouragement. I was surprised at how much of a spring this put into my step, and I finished the run easily. Every now and then I still see him, and he always gives me a shot in the arm, while most other people are looking at me like I’m crazy, or even a sidewalk usurper.
It’s not uncommon to hear people level charges at others of being an “echo chamber,” or other such thing. If you don’t like a philosophy, the conventional wisdom goes, just accuse those who accede to it of being a bunch of back-scratchers. Of course, empty-headed groupthink is a reality and must be guarded against; all the same, we must not disregard the need for affirmation and encouragement from others.
It only takes one other person. Forget about popularity contests. Don’t even entertain the idea of winning over your whole family. Maybe no one in your family will understand whatever endeavor you’re trying to accomplish. Whoever the person is, if he is thoughtful and intelligent, he will prove to be a valuable asset. These cheerleaders come from the unlikeliest of places sometimes. Several of mine encourage the development of my ideas even though they’d rather be dead than embrace my various philosophies. But they are helpful because they are genuinely curious, intelligent, and able to see the good in others, and they are able to help me because I’m patient enough (just barely) to listen to their criticisms. I’m lucky to have more than one, but if I only had one, I’d still have a precious jewel.
The world is a lonely place, and we are bound to take far more ridicule than accolades in the course of any project. Who can face this tyranny of stupidity alone? Even many organizations designed for those with similar interests can be hellish on the individual spirit. I remember one organist colleague of mine who constantly poo-pooed me for having standards that are “too high.” The answer to this is to find one person—just one—who sees the good in you and has the courage to question your assumptions in a constructive way. Then you will be unstoppable. You will finish the race.
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