Tuesday, December 6, 2011

conviction over precision

I am passionate about many things. When I think about these various passions, I can acknowledge that my life would not be as meaningful without their presence. However, lately I've realized that there is a subtle yet important distinction between passion and conviction. To be passionate about something you must love it and appreciate it, but to be convicted is to know that you absolutely cannot live without that something. Though I have many passions, I only have two great convictions when it comes to how I live my life. The first is veganism, a conviction embarking on its 7-year anniversary. As the purpose of this blog has nothing to do with animal rights or environmental protection, I will refrain from speaking about that here, other than to say that I know I must be vegan. The second conviction is relatively new to me, but is currently providing me with a feeling of purpose during a time of my life when nothing else is: el sistema.

In recent years I have been able to recognize not only how fortunate I am today, but also how fortunate I have always been. I was lucky enough to be raised in a supportive middle-class family in a middle-class town, never having to worry about whether or not there would be food on the table or if I would go to college. As a child, I was blessed with all of the resources I needed to get to where I am as an adult. Only recently have I grasped the truth that the circumstances of my lucky childhood had a direct impact on the person I have become. Eventually, this led me to think about the children who aren't as fortunate as I was, and the impact that UNluckiness will have on the type of people they will become.

The thing that bothers me the most about this thought is the realization that as children we have NO control over how our lives unfold. A child cannot help whether he was born into a wealthy family or a poor one, a supportive family or a demeaning one, to educated parents or uneducated ones, in a good neighborhood or a bad one. Though a child has no control over these circumstances, he is inevitably either propelled forward or held back by them. Because life is unfair in this way, a poor child has a much smaller chance of living a prosperous adulthood than a wealthy child.

My automatic thought in response to this unfairness was, "who is to blame?" I have asked myself this question a lot, and I still don't know the answer. What I do know is that pointing fingers in any direction will not accomplish positive change. "Who is to blame" isn't the right question to ask. This question must be changed to, "who is going to do something to fix this problem?"

I am.

I must.

To me, there is no other option any more. Now that I know these injustices exist, and now that I truly understand that a child does not determine the conditions under which he is raised, I have no choice but to help those who cannot help themselves. I am committed and convicted.

There's one small problem, though: I am absolutely terrified of the follow-through. I know without a doubt that this is what I want to dedicate my life to, but social change through music is a daunting task to someone who has struggled with self-doubt for years. My fear of failure has the potential to drastically hold me back from accomplishing this goal, from helping those who so deserve to be helped.

My current focus is overcoming this fear. In order to do that, I am taking a lesson from el sistema philosophy myself. A saying that gets thrown around a lot in the el sistema community is "passion first, precision second," or "passion over precision." The belief is that it's much more important to get kids excited about making music and to provide them with a source of inspiration than for them to have a textbook embouchure or flawless technique. The precision will help them advance as musicians, but it is the passion that will ultimately provide them with the positive experiences they need to help them advance as people, and to create and achieve long-term goals. If they have passion, the precision will follow. For me, I'm replacing the word "passion" with "conviction." I must trust that my conviction to make this work will lead the way, and the precision will follow.

Every step of my el Sistema journey is frightening. I am fighting fears every day that I volunteer with Cincinnati's program. It's difficult, and sometimes I don't feel like I'm making much progress, but I know that my fear and resultant idleness will do nothing to create a just society. It is only through my baby steps of improvement that I will be able to make any positive change in this world. Those steps are propelled by my conviction, and as my conviction grows, so will the size of my steps, and the precision of my action. As long as I remain convicted, my aspirations of creating a positive social change through cultivating a love of music will become a precise reality.

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