The Tyranny of Talented

We often use the word “talented” to extol the abilities of someone else.  They do something cool, and we exclaim “Wow, you’re so talented!”  Sounds great, sounds positive, sounds like admiration… yet… there’s something else there I’ve begun to notice, another current that isn’t so hot.  And that is this:  talent has the prime definition of “a special natural ability or aptitude.”   As an ingrained, born-with thing, this has two implications:  one, to call someone talented can actually be a bit of an insult, as it discounts, dismisses, and ignores the amount of hard work that they put into developing that skill or ability.  Talking to an Olympian and saying “oh, you’re just so talented!” belittles (if unintentionally) all the mornings they woke up before dawn to practice two hours before going to school/work/etc, all the aches and pains and heartache and defeats and struggles and work and intensity and dedication.

Secondly, and perhaps more subversive in our everyday lives, is that it effectively says “I can never get what you have, because you were born with it.”  It limits what we can achieve and cuts off any thought of our own working hard to attain something.  The more we think about talent, the more we create the idea that people are just born with the majority of their skills, abilities, attitudes, aptitudes, ways of being, and etc – and so if we are lacking any of those, we are unlikely to be able to gain it, as, clearly, we weren’t born with it.

I say we ought to depreciate the use of “talent” in our language.  “You have great skill” or “I am impressed by what you can do” or any number of other sayings acknowledges the human being within both of us, giving us the freedom to be known and to grow.