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A different view of the parable of the talents
"Talent" as a noun is an excuse. If you don't think you have it, you dont have to try. ... However, what if we changed the word "talent" to mean "practice"? - photo by Joseph Cramer, MD
Many people have heard of the New Testament parable of the talents found in Matthew 25. A guy heads out of town and leaves some of his cash with three employees. To one he gives five talents, to another he leaves two talents, and he bestows on the last of the trio a single talent.

People argue over what the talents were. Anciently, it was a weight of about 80 pounds. The Jews also used the talent as their largest unit of currency. There is debate about its value in today's money, but a couple of sources say a talent would equal about $350,000. Multiplying that by a five and doubling it makes the servants' investments worth a pretty large chunk of change. To the first was given about $1.75 million. The next received $700,000. Even the last had a "pittance" of $350,000 with which to make something happen.

In their master's absence, the two top employees invest, making some deals to double their largess. They end up with 10 and four talents, respectively. Meanwhile, the last guy is a loser. He takes the dough and buries it in a hole. He must not have had a mattress.

Then the day of reckoning comes. The big honcho returns. The accounts come due. Everyone knows the story. The two who doubled their holdings both get a pat on the back.

The problem comes when the third player shows up with only the one original talent. He did wipe the dirt off.

The New Living Translation of the Bible modernizes the text of his excuse: I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.

This is where there are problems of translation. Nowadays, we look at the word "talent" as meaning "ability." We act like it is a gift instead of a weight. It has come to mean an inborn capacity beyond the ordinary, such as when a person has a musical talent or someone with talent created a work of art. Warren Buffett says that he has a talent for investing money. As he is a multi-billionaire, who would argue?

People view talent as part of their DNA. They have it or they dont. It is like the quip You cant coach height. Some people are short, others are tall. The end.

What if I told you that the parable has nothing to do with an inherited blessing? It is about fear. Talent is not a noun. It is a verb.

"Talent" as a noun is an excuse. If you don't think you have it, you dont have to try. It is the other guy who is lucky. It is a random act of biology or a present that Santa leaves for some and not others.

If you dont believe that, try out-thinking Einstein or doing a slam dunk better than Michael Jordan.

However, what if we changed the word "talent" to mean "practice"?

Science is increasingly telling us talent does not have the traditional meaning we give it. Instead, in the words of my father, talent is Correct practice makes perfect. Unfortunately, correct practice never seemed to make its way into my piano lessons.

Correct practice is not cutting corners. If the practice time for playing the piano is 30 minutes, it is not 29 minutes of looking for the sheet music. It also may be hours, not minutes. Correct practice is not doing the same piece over and over because it is easy. Correct practice is doing the hard things and doing them first. It is dissecting the challenges and attacking them systematically.

It is the opposite of what our third friend did. Correct practice is giving up fear. Success, as opposed to failure, is built on conquering self-doubt.

Fear keeps us from trying. Fear stops us from making mistakes that are the tools of improvement. When we practice correctly, talent means persistence. It is making hard things easy by working to fix the problem.

Talents are also how children learn. It is growing up surrounded by books. Talent is parents reading to their daughters and sons. Talent is listening to music of complexity, not just rhythm. Talent is playing with our children. It is providing experiences beyond the neighborhood. It is talking around the dinner table as a family. It is an atmosphere of expectations.

To have talent, you dont have to have your boss give you big bucks. You have potential talents wherever you look except in the ground.
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