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Emily Grossman

November 12, 2004 at 11:45 PM

Thoughts on Speaking the Truth in Love

This has been a somewhat difficult week for me in more areas than one, and a theme seems to be emerging: what does it mean to speak the truth in love? In my lessons, I have three options as to how to approach criticism and instruction.

First, I could love my students without being truthful. Some days, I get wrapped up in not hurting the students' feelings, trying not to be too discouraging in showing them their flaws. I find it a breeze to tell them how wonderful they sound and sugar-coat their efforts. I bet most of my students would initially like this approach as well. A big problem that arises with this tactic is that though they may get warm fuzzies and feel good about themselves, they will go on and make an embarrassment of themselves in front of an audience because of their falsely inflated ego, which gives them the blind confidence of a fool. Other people will see their flaws, but they won't notice when they are out of tune, screeching and clawing for the polite applause of a helpless audience. Or, on the other hand, they will eventually come to realise that they have flaws and need help and will resent me as their teacher for not directing them as they needed. They will come to an impasse and eventually quit. This is the result of my love for the student without truthfulness.

Some days I feel I balance myself on the opposite end of the spectrum--lots of honesty without tact. That is, I am quick to listen with a critical ear and cleverly devise a plan to get them to the next step. I get so caught up in the method of instruction, with tinkering and fixing problems that I almost forget that the student before me has a heart with feelings to hurt. I am so obsessed with accomplishing my goal to create the perfect violinist that I think of nothing else. In this scenario, I can see how a student would leave feeling discouraged and overwhelmed. They would probably be afraid to play for me, afraid to open up and share anything, afraid to have any sort of relationship with me because I am cold and cruel. I speak the truth, but without love.

Now, to speak the truth in love, what does this mean? It seems to be this delicate balance of knowing when and how to say the right thing that will benefit the student most. I have to be constantly aware of how hard I'm pushing and know when to back off. I have to develop a keen eye to spot that teachable moment, when a tidbit of knowledge will fall on open ears. I also have to know how to create the teachable moment when none exists. And for every critical comment, I need to make sure I've buffered the student with enough encouragement to help them bear the yoke of discipline. The truth is at its most powerful state when it is paired with love.

I'm at a loss most of the time. I don't know what's going on inside my students during a lesson. I want more than anything to create an environment where they feel safe enough to share what they really think and play with confidence.

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