Giving an ‘A’: Possibility, Not Measurement
In sculpting his masterpiece David, Michelangelo said that he was “setting free the angel that was inside the rock” (Chris Widener, The Angel Inside), that he was merely chipping away from the marble everything that was not David. In other words, one needs only remove the excess stone to reveal the work of art within.
When we apply this notion to human beings, we discover that we are all works of art in all our varied manifestations. Life’s true journey may be the process of uncovering and removing what’s in the way of our shining through with beauty and brilliance.
In support of helping us find the best in ourselves and others, consider the practice called “giving an A” that comes from the book The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life, by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. This practice asks us to choose the perspective of seeing everyone (even ourselves!) as holding great potential. You can give an A to anyone – your spouse, children, employer, co-workers – even strangers.
Taking the familiar classroom example first, notice that when students think of themselves as C students, they may not bother trying very hard. If the teacher expects them to do poorly, the students are likely to fulfil that expectation. What would happen if the expectation were that the students were A students?
Benjamin Zander, a world-renowned conductor and teacher, experimented with giving As to all his graduate music students at the start of school. They were instructed to pre-date a letter to him from the end of the semester, writing to tell him not just what they had accomplished, but who they had become in the process of living up to that A. The results were amazing. Students who had been anxious over their performance and who were playing it safe, began to see themselves differently and participated at a higher level.
In our work lives, it is easy to fall into the habit of judging others (ourselves, too!) for not living up to what we think is right and then holding that judgment as always true – in essence, labelling them C or D students. Imagine coming from a perspective of believing in another person’s creativity and potential. The result can be working together toward a shared goal of excellence.
The world is much more beautiful, and full of possibility when we choose to focus on the work of art within rather than the excess stone that appears to be the reality. It’s really a choice of perspective. What grade do you want to live into?
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