In his book, ‘The Element: How finding your passion changes everything”, Ken Robinson tells of a study of the Anlo Ewe people of south-eastern Ghana. When asked by the researcher how many senses they use, they thought that the question was bizarre: why would you need to count them? When the researcher listed the usual five that we in the West tend to recite – seeing, hearing, taste, smell and touch, the Anlo Ewe pointed out an omission. What about the most important one, they asked. The main one? Our sense of balance. (As Robinson points out, we take it for granted, but one unfortunate episode with alcohol can change your perspective on this. Literally.)
The point that Robinson is making is that it’s often the taken-for-granted that we ignore when trying to identify our particular skills and strengths. And, if those skills and strengths don’t fall conveniently into the category of what happens to be valued by our education system, we can spend many formative years feeling like abysmal failures.
In the book, there are many stories of talented dancers, musicians, artists and gymnasts who didn’t fare so well in the narrow confines of tests of numerical and verbal reasoning – the gold standards of measuring intelligence. Robinson argues, along with Howard Gardner amongst others, that there are multiple intelligences.
The book made me think of my son’s early experiences at school. At the age of six or seven, two significant things happened in his life: one was the discovery that he was mildly dyslexic. The other was his discovery of ice hockey. He was taken to watch a game. From that day, he knew that was what he wanted to do, and he started lessons. Suddenly he had found the right channel for his particular form of (physical) intelligence.
I rang him to ask if he had felt singled out or self-conscious about being taken out of lessons to have one-to-one tuition to develop strategies to handle the dyslexia. “No”, he told me, “it was quite nice to get out of boring lessons.”
I had to ring him because he’s currently in Switzerland. Playing ice hockey, as it happens and using that finely-tuned sense of balance (valued by the Anlo Ewe but not so much elsewhere). I think he’s lucky to have found the intersection between his natural talent and his passion. I just wonder how many people are putting up with jobs that bore them rigid because they haven’t yet found that crossing-point?