Slowhand

To anyone even remotely aware of the roller coaster engulfing Washington lately, events are moving at blazing speed. So blazing that the moniker “Breaking News” has lost its ability to surprise. Everything is breaking, constantly.

Conversely, to anyone even remotely aware of what it takes to craft a long, successful career, speed is overrated. Natural talent is a gift of youth. Mastery is a gain earned through years of patience and practice. Mastery cannot be rushed.

Eric Clapton earned his nickname “Slowhand” in the 1960’s as a member of the Yardbirds. It seems that whenever Clapton broke a guitar string on stage he would take some time changing it. Audience members waiting for the band to resume play would express their impatience by engaging in a slow handclap during the wait. A lasting nickname was born out of Clapton’s desire for quality.

Taking one’s time in service of quality and ultimately mastery is strength. An activity clearly linked to leadership mastery is reading. I’m not speaking of business reports or spreadsheets. I mean reading: broad ranging, engaging, linguistically rich reading. President Harry S. Truman famously observed “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Deep reading is unrushed, almost luxurious. It asks for a quiet mind to fill. It leaves that mind expanded and more capable of nuance. These qualities make leaders of any persuasion more capable.

Unfortunately, we live in a period openly contemptuous of anything that breaths intellectualism, a period where mastery is judged by clicks or stats. It’s worrisome, as explained by author Philip Yancey in July 21’s The Washington Post. He speaks in his article The Death of Reading is Threatening the Soul about the declining capacity of modern men and women to concentrate for any real period of time. We’re like lab animals jumping from screen to screen, link by link, in frantic search of the dopamine rush bestowed by content lovingly curated for us by an algorithm. “The tyranny of the urgent crowds in around me,” Yancey notes.

The urgent prevents us from going deep into anything, giving credence to the current contempt for intellect. Imagine what a twistedly complicated message the young pick up from all this, and the long-term effects of not honing the ability for sustained, enlightening concentration. Imagine all the mastery and skill that will slip by them as they equate volume with knowledge. Where will that leave us all as the world, big and small, barks its demands for attention and answers? If no one knows how to play the long game, how can we ever expect to shape the future instead of merely reacting in spasms to what comes our way?

I’ll do my part page by page, book by book, in-depth article by in-depth article. I am dying to become a master at the things I do. I like the sensation of my mind expanding, of stopping my reading for a few moments to push into a thought. The simple act of acquiring knowledge is delicious. Slow, unhurried, divine. It makes the journey to mastery, along with the joy of unfettered experience, of physical challenge and of emotional resilience, deliberate and replete with purpose. It makes intellectual depth a thing to desire. Mastery is the thing, and this thing cannot be rushed.

 

 

 

 

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