Most people waste considerable energy fighting their imperfections, while wasting opportunities to develop their strengths. Some all but destroy themselves trying to squeeze into a “talent and success” mold they were never intended to fit.
As a teacher or parent, you can help children escape this trap by showing them how to find, and make the best of, what they are and aren’t made for.
Bad habits and bad behavior aren’t in themselves weaknesses: they’re either manifestations of weaknesses or, just as often, misuses of strengths. Real weaknesses (and strengths) are as morally neutral as age and hair color.
If you’ve ever taken a Myers-Briggs or similar personality test, you know something about how human traits tend toward left-brained or right-brained, organized or spontaneous, introverted or extroverted, and the like—and how these traits are rarely straight “one or the other” choices, but fall at various points along various spectrum lines to make up the unique combination of traits that define each individual. Have your kids try a personality test and see what traits their natural leanings match and don’t match.
The common approach of pushing everyone to master a variety of subjects causes more problems than it solves, as illustrated in the famous “Animal School” allegory: the ducks ruin their feet for swimming because they’re expected to also run on land; the eagles are branded as troublemakers because they want to know “Why climb when you can fly?”; and the prairie dogs get shoved to the fringes because their natural talents are considered irrelevant by the powers that be.
Even if you have a classroom of thirty students, let every child develop his or her own natural strengths by providing regular design-your-own-project opportunities. And, teacher or parent, do not—repeat, not—reprimand kids for getting lower than A grades in their weaker areas. A C can be as good as an A if it represents basic competence and leaves time to become stellar in areas where the child naturally shines.
The best way to compensate for weaknesses is not to try harder, nor to resign oneself to doing without, but to develop an interactive community where everyone excels in his or her strongest areas for the good of the whole. The mechanic fixes the doctor’s car; then the doctor can get to her office and give the mechanic stay-healthy advice; then the mechanic is able to work every day and keep the doctor’s car running. Both help each other and themselves by using their own talents and not trying to do the other’s job.
Centuries ago, St. Paul wrote, “I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that … power … can work through me. … For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9b–10, New Living Translation of the Bible). Even if your concept of a Higher Power as the underlying source of strength doesn’t perfectly match Paul’s, there’s no doubt we all gain power when everyone accepts help according to their weaknesses and gives help according to their strengths.