Assignment: Take Three Giant Steps

Nov 2, 2015 5:00:00 PM / by Benjamin Zander

Benjamin Zander

For this assignment I asked the members to report back about their steps, so I was inundated. It was hard to choose from the vast number of written responses to this assignment. One day I will put their responses in a book!

To share about a Giant Step that I was planning for all of us, I sent out the story of a blind man to the whole orchestra:

A blind beggar is sitting in the street. He has a sign beside him: “I am blind, please help”. People pass by, and occasionally a person drops a coin in his cup.

Eventually, a brisk young lady steps up to him, takes his sign, turns it over and writes something on the back.

From that moment on, almost everyone who passes by drops money in his cup, until it is overflowing, with coins and notes lying all around. Of course the blind man has no idea what has caused this to happen. A little while later, the young woman reappears and picks up the sign. Now we see what she has written.


What is so moving about this transformation is that in the first scene the blind man is focusing on himself and his plight. “Please help”, he says. People are embarrassed or irritated and just ignore him. In the second scene he has shifted the attention from himself to the people in the street, who suddenly are shown something about THEIR world and are grateful that it is a beautiful day.

They probably hadn’t realized because they were too busy, too preoccupied or too anxious to notice. The blind man went into the mode of contribution and the world around him responded. Contribution is like a pebble thrown into a pond, it has ripples.

I thought of this video because of a GIANT STEP that I want us all to make this week and next weekend for the concert.

We are still an orchestra of individuals, not yet a coherent whole—“because they were too busy, too preoccupied or too anxious to notice”.

I intend to become the blind man this week so that I can will help to transform that. You too can help in this by spending some more time listening (or watching) this week to a recording of La Mer with your part in hand, hearing everything that is going on. Then all of us can become like the blind man, fascinated and engaged in what everyone else is doing. That would be a GIANT STEP for the orchestra.

Qian Mei (a student of design at BU) in the violins wrote on her white sheet last night:

I thought today’s rehearsal was extremely productive; we definitely made some great music today, but what I thought was that we sometimes are so invested in our own playing that we barely think about the rest of the orchestra. I think for sections that are particularly intense (in the second movement of the Debussy during the accelerando), we get so excited that we start screaming out the music with less regard to the dynamics and to the little nuances. At least that’s what I found about my playing today.

BZ: Thank you, Qian. Let’s all take a GIANT STEP in listening to each other and participating fully in the whole.

Responding to the story of the blind beggar, Ruth Swope (a junior at Holy Family Academy in New Hampshire) wrote:

Dear Mr. Zander,

I feel bad that I didn’t reply to your last email, and this one is just as beautiful. I find it amazing how such subtle shifts in character or attitude can affect someone so deeply... it’s a wonderful message to spread.

I’ve been having a bad week at school, and at times it seems impossible to take those 3 giant steps. The fact that the challenge is there, though, is getting me through, day after day. I keep on thinking of what kind of steps I can take to be proactive about improving my own life, and how I could possibly rise above it all and emerge even from the worst situation as a significantly better person.

Thank you for your time and your encouragement, and your assignments. And thank you for this whole orchestra! Saturday rehearsals really are the highlight of my week.

I’ll keep you posted on the steps... I’ll get there somehow!

Love, RUTH

I thought this called for the intercession of our Leadership Coach.

Here is Roz’s reply to Ruth:

Dear Ruth,

I want to applaud you for being conscious in so many ways and for being so loving. When you are 73 as I am, or indeed 76 as is Mr. Zander, you will probably realize that many of the struggles you went through as a younger person were equivalent to trying to keep the feet of the elephant clean (an impossible task since he is supposed to walk in mud) and ignoring the whole beautiful beast attached to those feet. So I encourage you to take the attitude that unconsciously you know how to grow and do the right thing for yourself and others, and it doesn’t take any effort on your part. You can relax and just stay in the questioning mode: for example: I wonder what the larger pattern is that this bad week fits into? Or, what does it take to trust that everything around me is exactly right? or On what should I put my attention, now? (Attention is like air and light and water—whatever it shines upon flourishes. So you don’t want to shine it on anything you consider a fault in yourself, or more “faults” will appear to you.)

Remember, it is all invented. So, whatever you say is a giant step is a giant step. A giant step could be making a new notebook with a gorgeous picture on the cover, or sitting in the sunlight, letting go of worries in the realization that nothing about your worries is personal. Or a giant step could be to stand in front of a mirror and find out that you are adorable. Of course, in another mode, you could look deeply into the eyes of the next beggar you come across, smile, and give him an unrestricted donation. Any of these will do as a giant step if you say so.


Roz Zander

Once they realized that the assignment wasn’t intended as a measurement of their skills or their dedication, but rather an invitation to play more enthusiastically and freely in the game of life, the sluice gates opened. That will have to wait for the book.

Here is the reply from Ruth Swope:

Dear Mr. Zander,

Many, many thanks to Roz for a wonderful response and reflection! I will keep it with me always. I especially like the part about the elephant :)

So many giant steps! I waited this long to reply, so I could count up all of them first.

1. I caught a glimpse into the lives of people around me who suffer more than I’ve had to in my very lucky life. As a result, I reconciled with someone with whom I hadn’t spoken in a long while. We’ve now come to a better understanding and friendship.

2. I learned how to act with kindness and charity even when I’m dead tired. Up until recently, my automatic reaction to sleep deprivation had been grumpiness, pessimism, or lack of restraint

3. I became a thousand times closer to a dear friend of mine by helping her through a crisis in her life.

I also, along with a few friends, came up with a plan to improve our school leadership situation. I walked barefoot in the rain and started reading a book for fun. I organized my locker and got better at delegation. I became closer to my God and my Mother Mary.

This week has been one of the most fruitful in a very, very long time, and I don’t think I’ll forget it.


This week's assignment is:


Topics: Shaping Future Leaders through Music, Assignments, White Sheets

Benjamin Zander

Written by Benjamin Zander

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