In the jazz world, there’s a rule: always play with people better than you. If you play with people worse than you, all you’re doing is feeding your own ego. If you play with people the same as you, you’re stagnant. But if you play with people better than you, you’re learning a lot, even if you might look foolish or bad.
This idea is applicable throughout our lives. Unfortunately, it’s become more and more apparent to me that this notion is anathema to many young people. Take tonight, for instance: My friend expressed her love for Barack Obama. I asked why; specifically, I asked her to name a single thing he did that was good. Another one of my friends told her not to continue the conversation, before admitting that I had a point: He could not think of a single good thing Obama did. He was possessed of the notion that Obama was a good president, but couldn’t think of why. Still, they did not continue the conversation.
I was speaking with one of my friends about this very thing last night. Why do people get defensive during discussions, and why do they refuse to have their beliefs challenged? The best way to learn is to make mistakes, to feel inadequate, and to make yourself look stupid. If you avoid this, you’re only handicapping yourself.
We’re all afraid of the things I listed above. It’s human nature. And if I’m being honest, it’s rare that I have an in-depth discussion with someone far above my knowledge level. But I think (and hope) I would welcome the opportunity to punch above my weight class. It would be invaluable experience, even if I were to lose the argument, and I’d be better off for it. Perhaps one day everyone will share the same attitude.
Seattle next Wednesday. Until then, same old, same old.