Benjamin Franklin aptly wrote in his Poor Richard’s Almanac:
“Hide not your talents, they for use were made.
What’s a sun dial in the shade?”
Talent is a word that third graders use and understand. Their developing minds easily grasp its meaning; a meaning that they retain into adulthood. Sports writers, music and art critics could not live without the holy word. Doting parents and grandparents need it to describe their genetic offspring.
The concept of talent basically says that a precious few people have special talents in music, art, athletics, etc., but most do not. We are taught that talented people are rare and have an advantage over the rest of us; that they rise to the top, become stars, idols to be admired and worshiped; that they possess this rare and human fulfilling gift from God, or nature, take your choice.
So much for legend. My dictionary tells me that talent is a superior natural ability to learn quickly. But, dictionary definitions only scratch the surface of this word so filled with meaning and too often misused. Definitions don’t mention the significance of the word. It is a concept that elicits envy, it motivates, it discourages, it fascinates, and it corrupts. Talent, used properly, has enhanced human development; used improperly, it has stifled lesser talent. It is what each individual makes of it, nothing more.
Bigger dictionaries flesh out the meaning a little more. But, if you wish to be more knowledgeable you need to read neuroscience journals. Alas, even the neuroscientists struggle with this complicated and hackneyed term. The concept of talent invites controversy and scientific research into its origin, development, and significance.
So, what exactly is it? The answer begins in the infant brain supersaturated with brain cells. Uncounted trillions of neurons are destined to wither and die in childhood. Hormonal forces, influenced by DNA, epigenetic factors, and the environment, will wean superfluous neurons out and ultimately design a unique structure of neuronal circuits that will determine who we are, and how talented we are. These circuits, like roadways, erode if not maintained. Our brains unfortunately contain many of these neglected roadways.
Recent research concerning savants tells us a lot about the talent that dwells within all humans. Savants have a variety of talents due to unusual brain circuits and while lacking in many normal social skills, they may possess mysterious and extraordinary skills playing a piano, painting, sculpting or singing. Theory has it that we all have similar talents that, in reality, are those forgotten roads we seldom travel. “Talent roadways” reside in our brains but are smothered by more important social, cultural and survival roadways. Rush hour traffic clogs our neural circuits and excludes much of the “talent traffic”. Savants are not so hindered. They may use their “talent roadways” without restraint, free from rush hour traffic.
Neuroscience also tells us that the capacity and function of each human brain exceeds all the world’s computers. It tells us that all the ram, the megabytes and power of our brains is seldom used at full capacity. Like computers, our brains are filled with detours such as spam, junk mail and viral infections. Our computer brains are in need of good “file saver” and “defragging” soft ware. How nice it would be if our computer brains had a “finder key” that we could press and recover our untapped talent. What new schooling, what projects and careers might we undertake so armed with our newly discovered talent and confidence? Neuroscientists claim it’s never too late to search for and identify those talents. We need to ask ourselves: Do our talents sit parked along forgotten back roads? Are they dusty and ignored, waiting to be discovered?
Another way to understand talent is to consider it as a seed planted in fertile ground but forgotten. What seeds of talent lie dormant and smothered in your brain, waiting for life giving water and energizing light? What plants might grow if given the chance? Perhaps intellectual food crops for the hungry mind, or soft medicinal grass upon which healthy children might play, or a sensual rose garden for our pleasure, or a modest flower that will satiate the small appetite of a hummingbird. Perhaps one of us has the seeds to a garden of wild flowers that will offer nourishment to all the creatures of this good earth. A little water and sunlight is all that is needed for germination, the rest is up to us.
We need to discover and grow the talents that lie within us. Contrary to what some would have us believe, talent is not meagerly rationed to the masses and generously endowed upon the chosen few. Imagine the fulfillment, the pleasure and the universal benefits of an abundant harvest that heretofore had been neglected.
Wisdom from the fictional character of St. Matthew:
“Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.”