Our Politics Show The Dark Side Of “Practice Makes Perfect”
When parents have a child take piano lessons, they will attempt to cajole or maybe coerce little John or Jennifer to practice regularly. And they might repeat the mantra “practice makes perfect.”
That saying is meant to encourage practice in order to reach proficiency. It’s considered a positive truth.
But it also works the other way. People who have become useless at work and life often get that way because they have practiced at it diligently. Usually, they have made a point to find friends who are involved in the same kind of practice.
If a child doesn’t stick with a musical instrument or a sport or some other skill, it is usually assumed they didn’t practice enough, or the practicing didn’t work. No doubt this is true sometimes. A lot of skilled people are proficient precisely because they responded robustly to practice. Practicing was more rewarding for them than others because they had a natural aptitude for the skill they were practicing.
But, in other cases, the reason that practice seems to not work is because you misunderstood what they were practicing. You can think a child is practicing the piano when he is actually practicing complaining about the piano, procrastinating as long as possible with the piano, and getting by with as little effort as possible with the piano, and hating the piano.
For some, practice doesn’t fail. Instead, they get better at hating the piano, exactly like they practiced. And usually, if they find friends who practice the piano, those friends will have the same attitude toward the piano.
When you choose to direct your life toward virtue or vice, you are also deciding what kind of teacher you are going to be. Notice how Solomon links listening to wisdom or folly with teaching wisdom or folly:
- “Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray” (Proverbs 10:17).
- “One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Proverbs 12:26).
For Solomon, your choices in life dictate not only your own life, but also what kind of message you will preach with your life.
And when you choose your friends, you are choosing to practice with them. And practice makes “perfect.” For example:
Make no friendship with a man given to anger,
nor go with a wrathful man,
lest you learn his way
and entangle yourself in a snare (Proverbs 22:24–25 ESV).
All of this helps explain our moment in American political and cultural history. Have our youth been raised practicing diligent work, careful research, and critical thinking? If not, then it is going to be difficult to reach them no matter how much evidence we have and how much we use logic. Instead, we can expect them to gravitate towards those who promise a magic economy where everything is supposed to be taken care of for them.
In other words, we shouldn’t be surprised at the quality of our presidential candidates. Practice has made a sizeable portion of the voting populace perfectly awful.
Mark Horne has been studying the intersection of ethics and the economy since high school. He was raised in Liberia, West Africa and Kwajalein, Marshall Islands, as well as on the Atlantic coast of Florida. He graduated from Houghton College in 1989 and from Covenant Theological Seminary in 1998. He was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America and has pastored churches in Washington state and Oklahoma, as well as serving as an assistant pastor in St. Louis.