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The Rev. Susan Sparks The Rev. Susan Sparks
The Rev. Susan Sparks is a former trial lawyer who now serves as senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York, NY.

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American Baptist Churches USA

Representative of:

Madison Avenue Baptist Church, New York, NY

The Sideways Principle

February 21, 2012


I love pinot noir.

I love it with chocolate; I love it with cheese; I love it with chewing gum.

It doesn't matter, I just love it.

And yes, I'll admit it. I first got into pinot after watching the movie Sideways. It happened in that scene where Miles, played by Paul Giamatti, tries to explain to his date why he loves pinot.

"It's a hard grape to grow... it's not a survivor like cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it's neglected ... No, pinot needs constant care and attention...only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression."

When I heard those words, my heart melted for those vulnerable little pinot grapes. And why not? My heart - the human heart - is the exact same way. We all have potential -- that full expression of who we could be; but sometimes it takes the most patient and nurturing of growers to bring it out. I call it "The Sideways Principle."

How many times have our hopes and dreams been threatened or even destroyed because we shared them with an impatient grower. Words like "you'll never be able to pull that off," or "that's really not for you," or even just a dismissive shake of the head can eat away at us as fast as any disease. As the author William Gibson said (and pardon the language, but I think it is worth the risk): "Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low-self-esteem, first make sure you aren't just surrounded by assholes."

The sad truth is that the world is a broken place. Thanks to a continuing cycle of pain, human beings tend to "regift" what they have experienced. As a result, we need to be careful with whom we share our hopes and aspirations, for like those pinot grapes, our hearts are vulnerable.

As an ex-trial lawyer let me frame this conversation around two facts supported by two pieces of evidence. First: the world is a broken place. In support of this I offer "Exhibit A:" Jeremy Lin. As an Asian American basketball player, Jeremy has faced the full force of the world's prejudice. Even with outstanding records as a high school and college player, he was untapped in the 2010 NBA draft. Today he has fought through the barriers and is a superstar with the New York Knicks; yet he still faces continuing ethnic slurs and public prejudice. In referring to several turnovers Lin allowed, ESPN recently ran a headline: "Chink in the Armor." It has since apologized. It's like the old saying goes: Mediocrity attacks excellence.

Fact #2: magical things can happen when human gifts are shared in safe places. In support I offer "Exhibit B:" El Sistema. Nestled amidst cinder block huts and garbage lined streets in the barrios of Caracas, Venezuela, sits El Sistema, a classical music learning center for children. The center offers lessons for violins, french horns, trumpets; a stark alternative to the gangs, drugs and violence that otherwise awaits these young people. It is a safe haven offering community and a sense of self-worth; a safe place that coaxes out the fullest expression of who they can be. It's most famous student? Gustavo Dudamel, the wildly famous conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He faced a broken world, yet thanks to a safe place, blossomed into greatness.

What dreams have you shared only to have them threatened or destroyed?  What dreams have you shared only to have them threatened or destroyed? What aspirations have you had dashed by an outside realm? The world is a broken place. Yet in the hands of a patient and nurturing grower, the human heart can produce magical things. You don't even have to love pinot noir to appreciate this idea. You just have to follow The Sideways Principle.

This entry was also featured on my Psychology Today blog:

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