Life Lessons Lip-Learned

July 26, 2017

The genius artist-sculptor Michelangelo, when asked about one of his greatest works, said he didn’t create, he revealed. Within the twenty-foot tall block of marble that other sculptors had rejected, Michelangelo envisioned David, the giant slayer. It was Michelangelo’s job to set the stone-clad captive free.

Several years ago for my fiftieth birthday, my wife and I visited with David at the Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy. After spending more than an hour circling him, necks craned, examining every nook and cranny, I concluded that Michelangelo was being a bit too humble. But then, who am I to question the creative genius of the greatest artist in human history? Whether he was created or revealed, all I know is that David exists and he is stunning.

Taking a cue from the great sculptor, as we travel on this journey called life, we should ask ourselves a question: are we creating or revealing? When it comes to who we are as individuals, I’d say it’s mostly a process of creation. We are for the most part blank slates, our genetics notwithstanding. Day in and day out, year after year, we construct ourselves, piece by piece, brick by brick, absorbing information, growing, stumbling, achieving, and hopefully, developing wisdom. The physical and mental development of a human across the years of his or her life is miraculous, the greatest act of creation the world has known.

On the other hand, when it comes to understanding the world, and how to succeed and be happy within it, I believe it’s all about revelation. Scripture sums it up well. Ecclesiastes 1:9 says: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Simply put, all the building blocks of everyday life already exist. They may be out of focus, jumbled, and obscured, but they are there–always have been, always will be.

For example, we don’t create Newton’s laws of physics; rather, we learn how to fall down-go boom as toddlers and weather the ravages of gravity as we age. It’s the same with human nature. You and I didn’t create the seven deadly sins; they’ve existed since the beginning of humanity, and don’t seem to be dying out. As we grow and mature, though, it’s in our best interest to reveal, understand, and mange them.

So, unlike our individual development, the process of learning about the world, and how to function within it, is akin to that giant block of marble. Like Michelangelo, chisel at the ready, our job is to reveal things, facts, then to experience and grow as we try to make sense of it all.

We all have our means of discovery. A particularly effective tool for me has been my lips. Whistling has helped me reveal how life works, what is important, and how to make the most of every day. That has helped to make me happy. That doesn’t mean you have to whistle to be happy, thought it certainly helps.

What have my lips helped reveal in nearly fifty years of whistling? Here are the four core lessons:

  1. Be humble
  2. Be grateful
  3. Be open-minded
  4. Be disciplined

The pursuit of excellence, whether you are a whistler, an investment banker, a car mechanic, or a nurse, sets the stage to learn these things and many others. That doesn’t mean I have perfected them–I haven’t. It’s a journey, and I’m around two-thirds of the way there.

(Find this and other stories in my new book Find Your Whistle: Simple Gifts Touch Hearts & Change Lives.)