Can you sing? I can’t. I know that there will be people out there who will be quick to tell me that anything is possible, that we all have great creative potential, but I know different. You see, at the tender age of 10 years old, I was told by an expert that I couldn’t sing and who was I to disbelieve him. Back then I was in the 4th Year Juniors, the final year of primary school. Being the oldest in the school our class had the dubious honour of being the school choir. This wasn’t optional – if you were in Mr. L’s class you were in the choir. Being in the choir meant that you performed to parents at certain special events during the year and also sang carols at the nearby old people’s home at Christmas.
Things started to go wrong for me at the third choir practice when Mr. L. informed us that he has some important news. He had been listening to us carefully and was sorry to have to report that some of us could not sing. He said that during the next song he would walk along behind each row and if he tapped you on the shoulder then you were to carry on mouthing the words but under no circumstances should any form of sound pass our lips. The music started and we all began singing and waited. I felt a tap on my shoulder and immediately stopped singing but carried on mouthing the words. A really important person, an expert no less, had informed me that I could not sing, there was no way that I was going to disagree. I still had to go to weekly choir practice and quickly learnt the words of all the songs and the tunes were in my head, but I never sang a word.
50 years on I can still vividly recall the experience. I can physically feel the touch, I can experience again the powerful emotions I felt all those years ago. Our minds are amazing. We all talk to ourselves many times each day. This process of self-talk reinforces those single incidents so that they become embedded in our subconscious minds and therefore become our reality. I was only tapped on the shoulder once but I replayed the incident over and over in my head each time reliving both the experience and the emotions that went with it.
I once read that, “We act, not according to the truth, but in accordance with the truth as we believe or perceive it to be. We see the world selectively; seeing what expect to see and hearing what we expect to hear. Our perceptions are based largely on past experiences and conditioning. ” The trouble is that we have all got our own map of the world, but we assume that it is the map and then make the mistake of believing that other people are operating from the same map. I wonder how many other people are living a falsehood because someone in the past created a truth that is not necessarily true. I wonder if I hadn’t had that ‘tap’ I might have gone on to be a great singer. Who knows, but I’m sure that without the ‘tap’ I would have at least enjoyed singing rather than seeing it as something I should avoid like the plague!
I spent yesterday morning working with a group of teachers. Early on in the day I asked them to write down what they would like to do or be if they could start all over again. Not one of them wrote down teacher. Instead they had dreamed of being a pilot, an artist, a world class dancer, someone who travelled the world. It made me wonder just when these dreams had been pushed aside and why. Was it because someone had once said to them, “When I tap you on the shoulder I want you to stop dreaming and get yourself a proper job.” Sir Ken Robinson in his book ‘The Element’ wrote:
For your dreams to mature they need a period of incubation. Leave them too long and mould gathers, but bring them out to the light too soon and somehow they become bleached out, weakened. Most of all beware of the dream killers, those who haven’t listened to Yeats’ words – ‘Tread softly for you tread on my dreams’