The whole point is to live life and be – to use all the colors in the crayon box. – RuPaul
Many years ago, in another life, I used to teach dance.
You wouldn’t think it to look at me now but I was young and it seemed like something that I should learn – and I found that I was very bad so I kept trying and eventually I learned it and then I could dance it and teach it and then when I was done I left it all behind and moved on.
But during those years there was always one thing that puzzled me, one thing that still puzzles me about the way people approach things.
Getting serious about the thing
Why do you think people learn a social dance like Salsa?
If you look at dancers in a club you would be forgiven for thinking that the point is to go into the floor with a partner and then do your thing – break into some fancy moves and really show everyone else how good you are.
That’s what most people did – became really serious about how good they were at the moves.
They got good but they also missed the point of the whole activity.
The point of a social dance is to be social – to have a chat in an environment that allows you to talk to a range of other people.
It’s a place where you can meet a girl or a boy and have a dance and get to know each other – see if you get along.
And who knows where that will lead to?
But you can’t jump straight from not knowing how to do anything to being able to lead or follow around a floor while also talking about your favorite books.
You first need to get good.
Getting good at the thing
For the first six months you’ll be stepping on other people, looking down at your feet, trying to work out what to do with all the seemingly uncontrollable parts of your body.
And then, one day, you’ll start to get it – if you have a good teacher and access to resources and spend time practicing.
All that boring, basic stuff that you have to do to get to the point where you can participate in the first place.
At the same time, if you find it boring and basic then maybe you aren’t doing the right thing – you need something driving you.
Sometimes it’s easier to stick to things you find hard to do than those that are easy but which need you to spend time doing if you want to get better.
I think that’s the price of entry, being able to do something to a certain standard – to the point where you are pretty good at what you do.
And I think you know you’re there when you reach a point where you start to become serious about the thing – and that’s where you need to catch yourself and see if you’re still centered, if you still have a soul.
Why do you do this?
Over the last 47 posts I’ve been working through the content of my Listen book project and I thought I was at the end yesterday.
I’d talked about why listen, how to listen, how to make sense – there is material in there that I can work with and shape.
But I think there is a little bit that I still need to explore – and it has to do with the point of developing listening skills – skills of any kind really.
For example, if you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll notice that I draw an image to start the post – it’s something that tries to capture the idea I want to get across in the text that comes later.
When it comes to drawing you have many options.
There is the direction of fine art – and I think art is perhaps something that someone presents as an object in itself – something that is an end.
It’s easy to see that with a painting or a drawing – you get that painting and hang it on your wall and it makes you happy.
Somewhere before that are the sketches, the preparatory work, the rough lines, the research.
And before that is the practice, the training, the learning.
Somewhere on the track that connects the rough stuff and the finished art is a branch line that leads away to a place where the stuff I draw helps me do something else.
For example, if you have come across sketchnotes you’ll know that there are some fabulous examples of sketchnote art – where people make really nice looking notes.
But if you really want to learn what those notes show you’ll probably need to create your own – and you can do that with a ball point pen.
You can draw images and create a scene and make something memorable with a few scratched lines – just as memorable as the really arty ones.
Watch children at work – they really get this.
I have one behind me right now, drawing away, seeing through the scratchy lines to the reality behind.
So why do you do what you do?
Making a difference
Somewhere along your journey you’ll realize that what you do makes a difference.
It first makes a difference to you – you get better, more confident, you’re able to produce something of value with the skills you have.
Reading and writing and math and drawing have helped me personally and professionally in ways I could never have imagined in the tedium of the classroom.
I use them in a particular way now – to explore situations with other people and figure out what to do.
And I watch other people do the same in their own way – I try and learn from them and I also try and avoid going down paths that don’t seem right for me.
The path that works for me is the one where what I do makes a difference to other people – where what I am doing is seen as a good thing to do, something that is helpful and valued.
I think the real end to my book project on Listening is to point out that the reason why you listen to someone else is to understand, and the reason you try to understand them is so you can help make a difference.
You can make a difference to one person or to many.
You can make a difference in a community.
And I think understanding community is going to be the next book I start to work on, after perhaps a wind up tomorrow.