Sunday, November 12, 2006

You can turn your weaknesses into strengths

A diamond with a flaw is better than a common stone that is perfect.
- Chinese proverb

I hasten to mention that this article is not about minerals. The quote refers to people.

Having said that, the part of the quote about the "common stone that is perfect" is extremely difficult to explain. I sort of painted myself into a corner, huh?

No, the common stone that is perfect refers to a person who is not recognized for any outstanding or clearly well-developed or superior characteristics. It's the observer that is the object of this part of the quote, not the observed one.

A person who is not recognized for his or her strengths or good deeds will likely have low self esteem. Either that or he will become a bully or an arrogant boor, though these are in the minority compared to the people with low self esteem.

But surely there are few diamonds among us, given that by definition the diamond is rare. Wrong again. Each person is a potential diamond, but only if the observer is looking for diamonds, not common stones.

Taken on their own, the strengths that each person has are treasures that most of us don't have. Each person has at least one strength or talent that most people they know would envy if they were aware of it. Of course that wouldn't happen if a person has not worked hard enough to develop that skill or talent.

We don't need to consider the weaknesses of a person in order to be able to appreciate that person's strengths or talents. Unless their weaknesses impinge on us badly, we should not consider them of great value (in a negative sense). Consider the strengths and the weaknesses will pale in comparison in most people.

How does a person learn what their strengths are? In most cases, strengths or talents are not genetic. Musical parents may raise a musical child, but the child may have developed an interest in music in the womb and learned musical skills so early that they seemed like the child was naturally talented. Then hard work made extraordinary skill seem like a natural talent.

In other words, we can practise those skills or characteristics that we want to have as strengths to the point where we are better at them than most other people. A characteristic such as kindness is appreciated by most people and is one that can be developed by anyone, no matter what gifts or deficits they were born with. Should you believe that kindness is not an important characteristic, listen to a few eulogies at funeral services.

Most Olympic athletes got to the point of being chosen to compete not because of raw talent but because of extraordinary commitment to an excrutiating amount of hard work--hours every day for many years--until they were superior to their peers. Set aside their extraordinary skills and they are no more special than anyone else, except in other ways that they may also have practised (such as socializing or public speaking).

While I will never be an exceptional writer like those who sell millions of books each year, I feel that I have excelled at writing through many years of practice. Since I couldn't read or write until I was well into my 20s and having to write anything of more than a few sentences would strike fear into my heart as a student, I feel I haven't done too badly for myself.

The flaws in the human diamonds come with the person. What we need to do is to polish the shiny parts until others notice them.

Then, for our own strengths to matter, we need to share them and to recognize the strengths of others so that they too may grow.

We gain strength as individuals by raising others to our own level, not by pushing them under our feet.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to help people polish the diamonds within themselves.
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