Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Who Makes it Happen!

By Thomas Kochman - 11.03.2009

I just finished reading Three Cups of Tea which describes how Greg Mortenson overcame daunting challenges to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan far greater than climbing K2, the mountain in the Himalayas whose peak he hoped to reach, that initially brought him into the area.

What intrigues me is the statement made by Mortenson’s sponsor, Jean Hoerni who, near death, phoned a childhood friend and boasted, (p,182) “I built a school in the Karakoram, Himalaya ….What have you done for the last fifty years.”

What I find notable in the above statement is Hoerni’s use of “I” in describing his role which speaks not only to his identification with the project and pride in its accomplishment, but as its initial capital sponsor, ownership, too.

And this leads me to the question which opened this blog which is the age long debate over the relative importance of capital and labor –for Hoerni: his capital sponsorship; for Mortenson: his self-sacrificing and persistent effort over time against enormous odds.

Both capital and labor are critically necessary to the success of any project. Less obvious is how people weigh in and give credit to one side or the other.

When I reflect upon how I give credit–having been on both sides of the spectrum– it depends upon levels of creative involvement. If on the capital side of the equation it took years to grow, nurture and develop a marketable product and the demand for it, then I give great importance to that. If the creative development came at the delivery or performance side, then I weigh in heavily there.

If I shift the focus elsewhere: to sports and entertainment, for example, I put creative development on the performance side of the equation. However, when I go the theatre or listen to classical music I am intrigued as much or more on the work and the author as I am on the performance.

What accounts for the shift there?

Charles Keil, in “Motion and Feeling in Music” talked about two different traditions: the compositional and the improvisational.  The former is text oriented. What counts primarily is the relationship of the performer to the work or composition. The second is outcome oriented. What counts first and foremost is the relationship that develops between the performer and the audience.

This shift in emphasis is important. Both traditions are performance oriented. Keil notes “the good composer gives spontaneity to his form” while “the good improviser gives form to his spontaneity.”  But which is central directly affects not only the degree of creative freedom a performer has when working within one or the other genre, it also affects how viewers and listeners experience what happens and who they give primary credit to.

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