How would our world be, if each of us used their talents and their ability to make a contribution?
“…for it is as when a man, going into another country, called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one; to each according to his several ability; and he went on his journey. Straightway he that received the five talents went and traded with them, and made other five talents. In like manner he also that received the two gained other two.But he that received the one went away and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money…” (from the Gospel according to Matthew, 25:14-18)
I consider the music of Bach as one of the reasons why life is worth living. Any of his preludes and fugues reaches such a level of mathematical complexity, accompanied by such a superhuman beauty, that it probably represents the closest thing to perfection that can be conceived on this earth.
Not to mention that every composition reveals so many different levels of interpretation – numerological, theological, metaphysical, symbolic, etc.. – that what you hear – even sublime – is only the most basic level of understanding. To analyze a Bach’s work in its various aspects it is therefore an aesthetic, intellectual, mystical pleasure, and an endless source of surprises. Sometimes I wonder how the world would be without the Brandenburg Concertos or the Musical Offering. And I wonder what would have happened if Bach had been lazy. Or unmotivated. Or depressed. Or disorganized. Or, simply, if he had felt that it wasn’t worth it to lose time with music and he had put his focus on the teaching of Latin, that was his main job and which certainly gave him more income.
After all, he would have had all the reasons: at the time, Germany was at war, life was uncertain, the level of poverty scary, the disease always lurking. From an artistic point of view, he was constantly in conflict with the ecclesiastical authorities because of his style overly complex, which in any case was considered outdated and mediocre.
Even with his family, things never went too well: his first wife, by whom he had seven children died very young. And he had fourteen children from the second wife, but only four of them became adults (and this gives us an idea of how widespread the scourge of child mortality was). And in the last years of his life he was afflicted with diseases and blindness, but nevertheless, he continued to compose until the last day, helped by his sons who were writing from dictation. “The Art of Fugue”, one of the highest and most extraordinary creations of the human spirit, has been written in these incredible conditions. We can only express appreciation and gratitude if Bach, dealing with all these difficulties, found the energy, the motivation and the will that he needed to give us something that has crossed centuries and which is for us a source of constant joy and inspiration.
However, if I start to think this way, I find it hard to stop: how would the world be without Vivaldi, Mozart, Chopin, … or without Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raffaello … without Goethe, Tolstoy, Dante, …
What is the force that drove these men? What made them overcome all the obstacles? Do not forget that many of those who we today consider absolute geniuses, received very little recognition and satisfaction during their existence. Most of them would have had every reason to give up their work and go to more reasonable and profitable activities. And still …
But, continuing the reasoning, why stop at the artists? What can we say of all the scientists and researchers who, over the millennia, have brought the technology and civilization at the current level, and of which we can enjoy the fruits? How can we thank not only the most famous, such as Newton, Galileo, Pasteur, but also the multitude of scholars that today no one remembers, but that gave his own contribution by adding a brick – big or small – to the building of the human knowledge?
“…Now after a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and maketh a reckoning with them. And he that received the five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: lo, I have gained other five talents. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord. And he also that received the two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: lo, I have gained other two talents. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord… ” (From the Gospel according to Matthew, 25:19-23)
And what can we say about those who, without producing paintings or symphonies, without building cathedrals, without making scientific discoveries, simply made a contribution to stretch a little farther the limits of what was thought possible?
It’s true, we don’t have all the same amount of talent. We can’t all be geniuses that affect the story. But, that’s for sure, we all have a lot more potential and talent than we dare imagine. It is equally certain that all of us, everyone, we have something to express, to create, to communicate; especially, we all have the opportunity to contribute to the world, within the limits of our ability. And we can be sure that these limits are very, very far, certainly much farther than our desire for comfort let us to admite.
But then, what can we say of those – which, sad to say, are an immensity – who have talent and ability, but don’t use them? Those that could write a book, create something, make a contribution, but for reasons that they find convincing, DO NOT do it? Those who buried the talent that has been given to them?
“…And he also that had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou didst not sow, and gathering where thou didst not scatter; and I was afraid, and went away and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, thou hast thine own. But his lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I did not scatter; thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the bankers, and at my coming I should have received back mine own with interest. Take ye away therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him that hath the ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken away. And cast ye out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.” (From the Gospel according to Matthew, 25:24-30)
I consider this parable one of the most disturbing and provocative of the whole Gospel. Regardless if we are believers or not, we are all aware that we have an immense amount of talents, abilities, possibilities, potential. And regardless if we believe or not that one day someone will ask us to answer for our actions, one thing is certain: at some point in our lives, WE will be forced to ask ourselves how we have used the possibilities and opportunities that life offered.
I will not insist further on this point, because I do not want to turn this article into a sermon, especially since I have no right to put myself in a preacher’s position. But …
I’m writing this … because nothing makes me sadder than wasted talent and unused opportunities, and because I believe that to use talents and opportunities is not only a choice but a duty …
I’m writing this … because we live in a society that constantly puts the emphasis on what we are missing, creating a feeling of permanent dissatisfaction and providing more convenient pretexts for inaction, while if we focus on what we have and on what we can do, we’ll find that the potential available to us – here and now – is absolutely fantastic and it is just waiting for us to overcome our inertia to be used …
I’m writing this … to ask again and again my eternal question; “How would our world be, if each of us used their talents and their ability to make a contribution?”