Public School Talent Shows (or Why I Don't Fear for the Future)

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Posted in Opinion

In the business world, we're too apt to look for the faults and failings in our peers, usually out of a misguided sense of competition and inadequacy. Luckily for me, a bunch of elementary school students taught me the value of mutual encouragement.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a talent show put on by the students at my children's school and to be honest, I was going as a bit of a critic.  Not that I am an "Entertainment Critic" by profession, but I was going with the attitude that most of the acts wouldn't be all that exciting.  

I was going to really cheer for my daughter who was performing, and would give a pleasant clap for others.  That is the polite thing to do, after all. And so, the show started with an impressive opening number performed by a choir and group of students drumming on buckets and garbage cans.  As a recovering drummer, this was very entertaining and a nice surprise.

But then it came. The girls singing songs outside of their range. My internal Simon Cowell woke up and I leaned to my wife making some comments about song choice. I may have even used the word "pitchy".

By the way, I am such a horrible singer that I wouldn't even call myself monotone because monotone people can sing at least one note.  So I sat for a few numbers and then it happened.  The moment that I recognized that I was missing the point of the show. A young girl who is socially awkward was up next and was going to sing "Let it Go" from Disney's Frozen.  

"Oh no," I thought. "This is going to be a disaster... how is she going to handle it?... why do they keep picking such hard songs?"

She started singing, was better than expected and to my surprise,  the kindergarten children started to sing-a-long with her when the chorus came.  Her confidence grew and her performance improved. She didn't need to go after the high notes. She wasn't looking to be the next Idol/Voice/Got Talent/Whatever contestant. She was there to sing for her friends, and they were there to enjoy it, and encourage her.

Act after act, I watched as the audience of students encouraged each other. I saw grade 8 boys "too cool" for most things barely contain themselves and show expressions of amazement normally reserved for highlight real dunks when an 8 year old did back flips across the gym floor. These same boys gave high-fives to another 8 year old after her rendition of "Let it Go" (be prepared for that one, it is popular).

I was amazed at the level of mutual encouragement. There was no one looking to "one-up" someone else. I finally understood that the show wasn't about the performance, but was about the participation. The participation of not only those with "talent", but those watching as well. They were genuinely happy for each other and appreciative of one another's efforts.

I thought about the workplace and wondered, "Why isn't it like this there?"  

I am not saying that performance or results are not important, but I wonder how many people refrain from participating fully, or putting themselves out there for fear of criticism of their peers. Is the organization benefiting from their silence? Probably not.

How many of us sit and watch when someone else in our organization presents or put themselves out there and secretly hope they fail, or focus on the one thing they did wrong instead of the many things they did right? I have to wonder if performance in the workplace would improve, as did the young singer's, if the same type of support and encouragement were prominent in our "real world" scenarios.

We live in a world now where it is very easy to be a critic without any skills, abilities or credentials. You can pick any YouTube Video and read all the troll comments below.  The only reason I know '50 Cent' threw out the first pitch at the Mets Game last week is because of how far he missed the plate, and how much the 'Twitterverse' exploded with negative comments afterwards.

He was able to laugh about it. Why do we feel the need to laugh at him?

It seems, for now at least, that these students have been able to avoid these pitfalls. So I would encourage you to find a show being put on at your local public school or high school. Go and watch a little league baseball game or soccer game. Don't limit your view to those performing, but also watch those encouraging and cheering on. Many will be teammates, peers and occasionally opponents. They still have the ability to be competitive and remain compassionate.

The world will always have its talent scouts and critics.  And there is a need for them.  Heaven knows you wouldn't want to have me recording a record. The rest of us, however, could learn a thing or two from these students and be supportive and encouraging in all facets of our lives. Imagine the great things that could take place if we learned to support and sing-a-long instead of troll and tear down.

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