Lessons from Benjamin Zander’s talk on TED 2008

Random Ramblings 2017/02/09

Benjamin Zander is a world-famous classical orchestra conductor. During his talk at TED2008 on ‘classical music and passion’ he refers to a moment of ‘enlightenment’ as I would call it.

I was 45 years old, I’d been conducting for 20 years, and I suddenly had a realization. The conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound. (…)

He depends, for his power, on his ability to make other people powerful. And that changed everything for me. It was totally life changing. (…)

I realized my job was to awaken possibility in other people. And of course, I wanted to know whether I was doing that. And you know how you find out? You look at their eyes. If their eyes are shining, you know you’re doing it. (…)

If the eyes are not shining, you get to ask a question. And this is the question: who am I being, that my players’ eyes are not shining?

Wow, now that’s what I would call enlightenment. “My job is to awaken possibility is other people”. That resonates with me, deep inside. Servant leadership.

Benjamin extends this insight to parenthood, generalizes this to his vision of succes:

We can do that with our children, too. Who am I being, that my children’s eyes are not shining? That’s a totally different world.


And you know, I have a definition of success. For me, it’s very simple. It’s not about wealth and fame and power. It’s about how many shining eyes I have around me.

Notice how he phrases this. It’s not “how am I behaving, that their eyes are not shining?” but “how am I being?” That’s a far deeper way to look at it. Fundamental. Existential. “Who am I being“? Who can I be for others so that their eyes are shining?

This question shifts our focus. It’s not primarily about doing, it’s all about being. Because who we are is the source of our doing. Our identity, our views of who we are and our purpose in life, is the driver for all that we do. It also shifts our focus from ourselves to the other. Though we ask what we are being, we define that in terms of our impact on others.

Who am I being…

  • that my spouse’s eyes are not shining?
  • that my children’s eyes are not shining?
  • that my colleague’s eyes are not shining?
  • that my team’s eyes are not shining?
  • that my congregation’s eyes are not shining?

and we can extend this question to each and every relation we have in this life.

Tags: faith ted