Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Practice can lead to good or bad performers

However, Aristotle is aware that practice can lead to good or bad performers. For instance, if I practice playing the piano every day, I could still turn out to be a very good piano player, or I could turn out to be a very bad piano player. Similarly, even if I try to build something out of wood every day, I could turn out to be a great builder or a horrible builder. Which way it turns out depends on the quality of my practice routine. Good practice leads to good performance skills, bad practice leads to bad performance skills.

If this were not so, says Aristotle, we would not need any instruction. If I could be a good piano player just by sitting down and banging my fingers on the keys every day, then I would never need a piano teacher. But obviously, that sort of practice will not make me a maestro. I need a good teacher to guide my practice in the right ways.

The same goes for emotional skills. Take courage. According to Aristotle, being courageous means facing danger when it's appropriate, and fleeing when the danger is too great. Suppose, then, that I were training to be a ninja, and suppose that everyday my master put me in a ring with a sparring partner. Then suppose that every time the adjudicator yells "fight!", my master yells out, "run away!".

Would I develop any courage with that kind of training? Not unless my master were teaching me to run to another, even better sparring match. But assuming that my master were not doing that, he or she would really just be teaching me cowardice, not courage.

On the other hand, if my master always had me run headlong into my opponent's house --- and by 'house', I mean round house (a kind of spinning kick) --- would I be developing courage? Aristotle thinks not. On the contrary, I would be developing rashness, i.e., the kind of crazy fearlessness that would lead me to take on anything anytime, even if my opponent were a giant tank, or perhaps a stationary brick wall.

So, thinks Aristotle, we need good training and good practice. Otherwise we won't develop our skills correctly. And this is why, Aristotle explains, our childhood training is very important. Or, as Aristotle puts it, our upbringing makes all the difference.

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