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Teaching Kids to Play Second Fiddle

  • Dave Stone Pastor, Southeast Christian Church
  • 2013 6 Jun
  • COMMENTS
Teaching Kids to Play Second Fiddle

There I sat in the midst of the crowded theater listening to the orchestra. Not my normal Saturday night routine, I’ll admit. But some of my friends felt that I needed a little culture, so there I sat, getting a healthy dose of sophistication.

Occasionally throughout the performance, the conductor would motion to a man who played the violin and have him stand. The crowd applauded wildly. When I left that night, I took with me not only my newfound “culture,” but a whole bunch of questions as to what made that guy so special.

And let me tell you, I got an education. Turns out that guy was Michael Davis, the first-chair violinist, or concertmaster. Next to the conductor, he was the Macdaddy.

Shows you how much I know.

In time, Michael and I became good friends. But that first night I just saw him as the guy who got all the applause.

It’s fun to be number one.

Not so much if you’re second. The great conductor Leonard Bernstein was once asked, “What is the hardest instrument to play?” To which he replied, “Second fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm...now that’s a problem.”

I wondered if that was literally true, or just a figure of speech. So I posed the question to my talented musician friend Michael: Is it really harder to play second-chair violin in an orchestra as opposed to first-chair?

I loved his answer. “Playing the notes isn’t tougher musically,” Michael said, “but you’re doing a lot of the work in the background while someone else is getting the glory. First violinists get the attention; that’s what makes playing second violin tough.”

This musical metaphor offers an apt characterization of our culture: we don’t handle it well when we do the same work but someone else gets more of the glory. Someone once said, “It’s amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.” These words have been attributed to both the iconic UCLA basketball coach John Wooden and to NASCAR owner Robert Yates. How wonderfully ironic that we don’t quite know who to give the credit to!

Whichever man said it, you and I’d do well both to live by that truth and teach it to our children. Yet this is one of the biggest challenges for us as parents: to raise kids who accept that they don’t deserve first-chair treatment.

Kids whose disposition and joy are not tied to their personal opportunities, possessions, or circumstances. Kids who go to great lengths and derive genuine joy from elevating others. Kids who realize that their sole purpose on earth is to glorify God and honor others.

People Are More Important Than Things 

Make no mistake: this transformation starts with you. If you give your smartphone more attention than you give your loved ones, don’t be surprised when video games and Facebook outrank you in your child’s eyes.

And don’t expect society to be in your corner. Our acquisition-hungry culture equates worth with possessions and responsibilities. The more you have, the more you spend, the more you own, the more value you have in the world’s eyes.  

Your children will never move toward honoring others until they genuinely believe that you value people over things. And without this solid foundation, all of the principles and ideas in this book are nothing more than wishful thinking.

So how do you teach your kids that people are more important than things?

By believing it yourself.

By living it.

When my kids started driving, I felt prompted to assure them that they were more important than the car itself. We hope our kids know that, but a little reinforcement never hurts, especially during that first year as your teen is strangling the steering wheel with sweaty fingers. Accidents happen, and sometimes the car goes faster than we intend. So I placed in the glove compartment, clipped to the car’s registration and insurance card, the following note:

If you have found this document, it means either a police officer has pulled you over, or you have been in an accident. First, I hope you are okay and that no one was hurt. But I also hope you will hear my voice saying to you, “You are more important to me than any car.” Cars can be painted and fixed. Sometimes people can’t. I love you and hope you are okay. Give me a call when the cop leaves so that I will know that you are.
Love,
Dad
PS, If you were speeding, I hope you learned your lesson. Never forget the beating of your heart when you saw the flashing lights in your rearview mirror.

(At least I’ve heard people say the heart rate increases. I wouldn’t know!)

Those words might sound hokey, but in that tense moment the message won’t seem that way to your teenager. It will communicate that you value people above things, that you value him or her above a car.

Excerpted from How to Raise Selfless Kids in a Self-Centered World by Dave Stone, © Thomas Nelson, 2012. Used with permission.

Dave Stone is Senior Pastor of Southeast Christian Church is Louisville, Kentucky, where he preaches Truth to more than 21,000 people each weekend. He and his wife, Beth, have three children: Savannah, Sadie, and Sam, a son-in-law, Patrick, and a grandson. Dave believes the most practical way to spread the gospel is through moms and dads who model a genuine faith for their children.

Publication date: June 25, 2013