Reflections of the notion of natural talent

Andrew Foster, Head of Education at Tougher Minds, reflects on today’s sad news about Sir Terry Wogan and the recent passing of other high-profile figures from the world of entertainment.

Strange to say, the sadness is heartening.

January 2016 seems to have been a particularly cruel month, with the loss of David Bowie, Alan Rickman and now Terry Wogan keenly felt by many.

News of their passing underlines how all these well-known figures found ways to engage and connect with people, in their thousands and millions. To change and shape lives just that little bit for the better, through their unique work.

To an extent this has always been the case. It was fascinating to read today a letter from the Times Archive, dated 1915, in which the correspondent told of his father’s recollections of his teacher telling the class that Trafalgar was won but Nelson was dead, then bursting into tears. But technology has now dramatically increased our ability to be seen, heard and known well beyond the circles in which we move.

I know from speaking to pupils at schools across the country that this greater connectivity is a source of inspiration for many of them. It is a means for them to take note of the passing of people admired by their parents and grandparents. Therefore we should perhaps be more careful in how we describe those that pass away.

“Gifted”, “talented”, “a born natural” are terms that abound, often at the beginning of obituaries that then go on to detail the many hours of practice and setbacks that preceded the person concerned’s success. We should not feed the false, “fixed mindset” narrative that Carol Dweck has rightly identified as stunting the development of children and adults the world over.

There will never be another David Bowie, another Alan Rickman, another Terry Wogan. But there are countless young people out there with potential to make a contribution to the lives of their contemporaries on a similar scale.

Let’s celebrate our heroes on their passing, and take careful note of the true lessons that their lives can teach.

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