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Talent as an opportunity - talent as a duty

Talent and responsibility in our society


The word “talent” is on everyone's lips, terms such as “talent” and “elite” are stylized and want to describe “something special” in our society. Apparently everyone is looking for extraordinary skills in equal measure: professionalized youth programs from sports associations, talent managers in companies, headhunters and HR consultants, interviewers in selection processes at the elite universities in Oxford, Cambridge and Co., TV shows like "Das Supertalent".

// Finding the exception. Talent in society.

Many human resource managers in large companies are only concerned with one question: How do we find, attract and develop the ideal candidate for our company? He should be talented, intelligent, versatile, but under 26 years of age and, in the best case, have several years of professional experience. Large sums of money are spent on various recruiting events and support programs to get the most talented young people enthusiastic about their own company. Junior programs from sports clubs bring together the future hope of competitive sports in their specially designed boarding schools. Elite universities select the supposedly best of the best from numerous highly qualified applicants in complex interview and selection processes. The TV show “Das Supertalent” strives to track down particularly extraordinary people among the masses of applicants in order to inspire viewers at home on the screen and to keep the advertising income high. Everyone has their own understanding of talent and ability. In many cases, the focus is on the extraordinary, and top performers are sought. But what is actually meant by the term “talent”? What do we expect when we speak of “talent”?

Talent and aptitude have taken a very high place in social reality. Both concepts inspire and are equally controversial. This is shown, for example, in the case of Laurent Simon, who already had a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering at the age of nine and will certainly soon have a master's degree. Undoubtedly no one will deny that we at Laurent have an (unusually) high concentration of talent or aptitude. The talents and abilities of others seem almost trivial in comparison with such "child prodigies", the status of the "gifted" being unattainable and reserved for only a few. The opinion that is often widespread is that you either have talent or not. If you are not equipped with this, you do not need to think about your own talent any further. In the case of children like Laurent, however, we are already talking about “giftedness”, which in turn represents only one aspect of the much more comprehensive term giftedness. The danger to the social discourse inherent in this confusion is obvious: if one does not differentiate between giftedness and giftedness, then on the one hand the promotion of gifted (or highly gifted) not only cannot meet with understanding, but also cannot be differentiated . A fundamental discussion of the question of whether broader talent promotion would make sense for society cannot take place. On the other hand, the social discourse about measures such as compensation for disadvantages or goal-differentiated integration falls by the wayside.

// Talent vs. talent. A conceptual approximation.

An interpretation of the term “talent” can initially be based on a current meaning. A look at the Duden already reveals more details about the term itself. “Talent” is used here as “natural disposition, innate ability to achieve certain achievements; [a] talent ”.1 In comparison, according to the German Etymological Dictionary, it is a gift that is given to someone or that one already has.2 In terms of linguistic history, talent cannot be understood per se as just a system that wants to be used. Rather, the aspect of developing a talent must also be taken into account. Likewise, it must not be neglected that the connotation of a person with “talent” always has the character of a prognosis: Anyone who has shown and shows extraordinary achievements in the past and the present, we trust that they will do so in the future.

In psychology, the concept of talent can be found in the so-called disposition-environment debate, be it in personality or developmental psychology. "Talent" is there as "individual potential for certain achievements"3 Roger that. Above all, research is carried out into the influence of nature or the environment on the development of personality and intelligence. Is the development of a child already programmed through the genes or do environmental experiences have a stronger influence? In science, too, a distinction is made between existing potentials - relating to personality and skills - and the training of these “through long-term systematic stimulation, support and support”.4

// Discover talents. Promote talent.

So if a talent slumbers in a person and has to be awakened, the question of the (systematic) discovery and promotion of talents and the responsibility of high performers for others arises for a society. For the psychologist Franz Weinert, “learning is the decisive mechanism in transforming high talent into excellent performance”.5 Talent can therefore be promoted and is only fully developed through the learning process. William Stern6 took the view that talent is a “possibility of achievement”, but not the achievement itself. Must this possibility also be used? What is the responsibility of the individual for the development of his or her potential and what is the responsibility of society? Is it even justifiable to leave individual talents unused in a world that has to find ever faster, ever more difficult answers to ever more complex questions?

The fact that talent is a disposition that needs to be developed has also been on the agenda at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) since 2016. With the initiative “Performance Makes School” - a research network with 300 cooperating schools that has existed since January 2018 - the government is demonstrating its interest in broad-based support for the gifted and researching it. In the academic context, we have seen support for the gifted for a long time. The BMBF has supported students and doctoral candidates in their studies for many years through the meanwhile 13 funding agencies. These reflect our society, as there are political, denominational and free funding agencies here. The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) supports and promotes outstanding students, doctoral candidates and post-doctoral candidates in developing their talents, true to the motto “Discover talent - promote talent”. The term talent used in the KAS is by no means limited to exceptional cognitive abilities, but is to be understood much more comprehensively. Artistic, musical, social, emotional or sporting achievements can also be classified under the term talent. In addition to very good academic performance, the KAS therefore attaches great importance to above-average social commitment in its selection process. We find the diversity of talent at the KAS also reflected in its journalistic promotion of young talent (JONA) and art promotion. In addition to financial support for young talents, the KAS promotes ideals, a riot of responsibility and interdisciplinary exchange, whereby the scholarship holders learn from each other and continue to develop.

But who will be part of such a funding organization? Who can benefit from financial and non-material support? How do we measure and evaluate talent and talent in society?

// Selection through processes. Whoever survives comes further.

The distinction between “talented” and “untalented” is usually made early in life. The educational scientist Jürgen Oelkers recently noticed this by affirming that "[i] In the German grammar schools [...] not only the 'more talented' [assemble], but those who have survived the selection and evaluation processes."7 In a society that wants to promote talent, I have to be aware that every choice and every decision can have far-reaching consequences. As an example, the recurring discussion about the so-called high school recommendation should be mentioned or the question about the admission requirements for studying medicine in Germany, which has meanwhile been decided by the Federal Constitutional Court.

Every funding program - be it the grammar school, the university or a scholarship program - must be aware of the responsibility of its own selection process. Of course, the criteria differ depending on the purpose and target group of the funding program. But how do you design selection and examination processes fairly? How do you take into account the applicant's environment and socio-economic background? How do you see those who do not survive the selection process?

// Free society and freedom to take responsibility.

If we remember the diversity of talents and the importance of the development of the talent, one could state that there is basically a high probability that everyone has a talent that can have very different forms. This talent sometimes has to be discovered first, but it can and must be encouraged and developed in any case. Every talent can enrich society. Conversely, society counts on everyone contributing their abilities and talents so that living together is possible in the first place. If one understands the principle formulated in our constitution “property obliges” also in the sense of a social connection of talents and abilities, then the step towards the formulation “talent obliged” is not far. Many also see the privilege of having a strong socio-economic background as an obligation to actively participate in social coexistence. Unfortunately, radical demands are often made for absolute equality, where preference should actually be given to sensible ideas of equal opportunities.

The responsibility of a state that has to regulate social interaction is therefore no small one. He himself trusts that his own education and support system will produce future leaders and those responsible for politics, business, art and culture, science, the media and all other disciplines that are necessary for the functioning of the state. Ultimately, both sides are in demand: the individual who makes his skills available to the community and the community who supports the individual in developing his or her talents. The dualism of promoting and enabling talent development on the one hand and creating a sense of responsibility on the other forms the basic building block of our social values.

The Heidelberg Adenauer Days want to contribute to this discussion this year. By critically examining the concept of talent, the participants should approach the chosen topic of "Talent as Opportunity - Talent as Duty". The scholarship holders and previous scholarship holders of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation have not only gone through various selection processes in their academic careers. The Konrad Adenauer Foundation itself describes its scholarship holders as "talented and committed young people"8 and therefore consciously relies on the (compelling?) connection between talent and responsibility. Volker Kauder has coined an important sentence on this, which is one of the essential bases for discussion of the Heidelberg Adenauer Days 2020:

"To be free to freedom always means to live the freedom in responsibility for others and to take responsibility in family, society and work. Those who live freedom only for themselves have not understood its deep meaning".9

1 Duden editor, scientific advice (2017): Duden. the German spelling; based on the new official spelling rules. Mannheim (Dudenverlag).
2, accessed on November 10, 2019.
3 Wirtz, M. A. (Ed.) (2019). Dorsch - Lexicon of Psychology (19th edition). Hogrefe.
4 Wirtz, M. A. (Ed.) (2019). Dorsch - Lexicon of Psychology (19th edition). Hogrefe.
5 Weinert, F. E .: Teaching and learning for the future - demands on learning in school, Bad Kreuznach: Lecture manuscript, 2000a. In: Hellmer, J. (2007). School and company: learning in cooperation. Springer publishing house.
6 Stern, W. (1916): Psychological talent and talent diagnosis. In: Petersen, P. (Ed.): The rise of the gifted. Preliminary questions. Leipzig: Teubner, pp. 105-120.
7 Jürgen Ölkers, “Can you give up? - Review of a powerful theory of educational science ", in: Die Politische Demokratie No. 533, 2015, p.12 (15).
8 accessed on January 29, 2020.
9 Kauder, V., On the value of freedom. Ulm, 2012, passim.