Aptitude vs. Attitude

“Today’s students can put dope in their veins or hope in their brains. If they can conceive it and believe it, they can achieve it. They must know it is not their aptitude but their attitude that will determine their altitude.” –Jesse Jackson

As an American civil rights activist, Baptist minister, and a politician, Jesse Jackson has built himself an excellent reputation as a leader with an attitude. Over and above his aptitude to understand the pain of segregation of the colored people in America, he became an epitome of racial reconciliation.

If not for his continued struggle to rise above the repeated onslaught of hatred, and discrimination at every possible level ranging from his early childhood all the way to the sports ground and the University, Jesse Jackson might have just lived like so many others. His attitude helped him rise above the ranks, so to say, and brought him forward as a student leader where his voice started to matter.

While our aptitude helps us make a living and earn a decent place in society, it is the attitude that allows us to win a distinct place in the community, and gradually, in the country and/or internationally.

There is a lot we can learn from the towering personality of Jesse Jackson that earned him the Democratic Presidential nomination twice, both in 1984, and again, in 1988. He has also served as a shadow U.S. Senator for the District of Columbia from 1991 to 1997. No wonder we can see a clear distinction between ‘aptitude’ and ‘attitude’ by taking a closer look at Jesse Jackson’s life.

While our aptitude helps us make a living and earn a decent place in society, it is the attitude that allows us to win a distinct place in the community, and gradually, in the country and/or internationally. Our ‘attitude’ helps us stand out, and become a voice of the masses, a voice with a cause that makes an impact!

The above profile is a befitting tribute to the following quote from Zig Zigler: “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” I would let you do the math.

Please allow me to discuss yet another related piece of wisdom from Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was an American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century.

“The beautiful laws of time and space, once dislocated by our ineptitude, are holes and dens. If the hive is disturbed by rash and stupid hands, instead of honey, it will only yield bees.”

What we see in the above quote is a warning for those lacking the aptitude for specific tasks. An ill-qualified individual is more likely to create a negative impact in matters of care and skill. This particular example limits the scope of discussion to the significance of an all too important ‘aptitude.’

The best part is that Ralph Waldo Emerson is not the only one that gave us this message. He also finds an equally august company in Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe’s exclamation, “Men are so constituted that everyone undertakes what he sees another successful in, whether he has an aptitude for it or not.”

The question that raises its ugly head time and time again is how does one differentiate between the above two critical features of an individual’s personality. How do we communicate with someone who may have a favorable attitude but lacks in aptitude? I say this because of the predominant focus of the majority of leadership aspirants, guides, and coaches on ‘attitude’ as the cure-all remedy.

To answer the first question, since we cannot enter a person’s mind physically, a keen observation of his/her actions can help us immeasurably in determining the aptitude of our subject/s. Of course, the above example of someone touching a beehive fits perfectly, in here.

Now, to the second question of communicating, we can always use the legal maxim:“General words must be narrowed either to the nature of the subject-matter or to the aptitude of the person.”

My curiosity to research the subject of parallels between ‘aptitude’ and ‘attitude’ brought me to the advice of Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon. Born in the 18th-Century, he was a French naturalist, mathematician, cosmologist, and encyclopédiste. His works influenced the next two generations of naturalists, including Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Georges Cuvier. “Genius is nothing but a greater aptitude for patience.”

Once you are focused on your aptitude to gain relevant knowledge and to strengthen your attitude towards attaining outstanding success, the recipe for genius shall be well within your reach.

What we must understand, and also practice in no small measure is the urgency to complement both our aptitude, and attitude. Without one, the other will be not much use, much the same way as a pen without ink. Having one in abundance, without any sign of the other in an appropriate proportion will never get us to the desired destination, no matter how noble the intentions.


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