Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony starts off as though the
music is making a joyful sprint toward a double handspring
that catapults it to the high trapeze. Mendelssohn
gives the winds eleven quick steps before the violins make
their first energetic somersault, but in one concert,
while I was pointing to the winds, a single violinist came
in with exuberance and gusto after just five steps!
It was the kind of confident violin playing you can't help
admiring, but it left us out there in space, no trapeze
within our grasp. For the first time in my
conducting career, I stopped a performance--in front of
more than a thousand people. I smiled to the
orchestra, said to myself "How fascinating!"
and began the piece again. This time, of course,
there was no mishap.
Afterward, someone associated with the orchestra asked me
in a hushed voice, "Would you like to know who
came in early in the Mendelssohn?" Whether
it was the slightly conspiratorial nature of the question
that put me off, or whether it was that such a question
was in disturbing contrast with the spiritedness of the
music that we had just performed, I found myself saying,
"No!" abruptly, and then adding, "I did
Not literally, of course. I didn't actually play the
violin. But in that moment, in the context of the
great music we had just made, it seemed absurd to me to
consider handing out blame. It could only divide us,
and for what?
that player would never again come in early in the Italian
Symphony, nor, perhaps, from this time on, make the
mistake of a premature entrance in any performance.
And I myself would know to be especially careful in
guiding the orchestra through those eleven steps whenever
I conducted that passage again. There was absolutely
no gain to blaming anyone, and a real cost in terms of the
blow to our integrity as a group. Besides, I know
full well that every time I step onto a podium, I take a
risk that things won't turn out exactly as I anticipate
them in my ear--but then, there is no great music without
I think, in retrospect, that my "I did it"
response represented even more than that--I was saying
that I was willing to be responsible for everything that
happened in my orchestra. In fact, I felt enormously
empowered and liberated by doing so.
The type of responsibility we are most familiar with is
the sort that we apportion to ourselves and others.
Dividing obligations helps us keep life organized and
manageable, as for example, "I'll be
responsible for making the kids' lunches, if you
feed them breakfast," or, "It wasn't all my
fault that our check bounced; you forgot to enter
other checks in the ledger." We often use
reward and punishment to regulate accountability--the
carrot and stick, the bonus at the end of the successful
year, the threat of being fired. Approval and
disapproval are also strong motivating factors, which rely
for their effectiveness on the individual's desire to be
included and to do well within the community.
Because the model is based on the assumption that life
will be under control if everyone plays his or her part,
when things do break down, someone or something
naturally gets blamed.
Apportioning blame works well enough to keep order in a
relatively homogeneous community that boasts commonly
accepted values and where everyone is enrolled in playing
his part. It appeals to our instinctive sense of
fairness. However, its effectiveness is likely to be
circumscribed in communities of divergent cultures and
widely varied resources. It is at this point, when
everything else has failed, that you might find it useful
to pull out this new game, the game of being the board.
In the fault game your attention is focused on
actions--what was done or not done by you or others.
When you name yourself as the board your attention
turns to repairing a breakdown in relationship. That
is why apologies come so easily.
a lively, sensible manual for turning life's
obstacles into possibilities, the Zanders introduce
various "tools" for transformation,
drawing on their extensive experiences with
musicians, students and patients in therapy (Rosamund
is a psychotherapist and painter; Benjamin is the
conductor of the Boston Philharmonic). They
also emphasize practices such as thinking in terms
of making a personal "contribution" rather
than stark "success or failure";
"lightening up" in order to see a problem
from a new perspective; and reassessing
"frameworks for possibility."