October 16


The Language of Denial

Some years ago, I had a student who hated piano. I mean, he really didn't like it.

How did I know? 

In our first lesson together, he told me he hated it. And that his mother was making him do it.

He then turned to his mother, who was sitting in the room, and said, "I'm only doing it because you're making me."

So yeah...I was pretty sure this wasn't going to work out.

But mom insisted that he really liked piano. She told me all these stories about how he always says he hates things he really likes.

Like how he had a wonderful time at a birthday party when he was younger. Then on the way home, he said he had a lousy time.

They called him a "contrarian." Except this definition of contrarian was "someone who says the opposite of what they mean." 

Which I'm still pretty sure the proper word for that is "liar." 

Or maybe "sociopath."

And so, we tolerated each other for a few years. He never practiced, but we figured out something to do every lesson. And then he quit. 

Turns out he really did hate it.

Perhaps "contrarian" is a unique case. But there's no doubt, we have developed some language of denial over the years. 

What was used to call misbehavior in lessons, we now call "strong-willed."

When someone disobeys the teacher, we now call them "independent."

If a student struggles in school, instead of getting extra help and guidance, they're diagnosed with a "disorder."

They may make us feel better about the job we're doing in the moment.

But if we're not careful, our language of denial can end up being our kids' greatest handicap.

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About Jonathan Roberts

I am the founder and director of the South Shore Piano School, and I have been teaching the piano for nearly 20 years. My work centers around bringing music to the lives of kids, parents, and adults in an enriching, meaningful way. At the South Shore Piano School, my incredible colleagues and I accomplish this through skill-based teaching, community, and an innovative, people-first business model. You can read more about me here.


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