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Unchaining the Human Heart
— A Revolutionary Manifesto
A Book by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 21: The Hand Is Quicker Than The Eye

This isn’t a chapter about stage magic, where the title of this chapter originated, even though — as with the escape artists of Chapter 12 — the talents I’m discussing have often enough been used “for entertainment purposes only.”

The final three chapters I’m writing in this manifesto for unchaining the human heart all have in common that they’re mostly about what you may or may not do with your brain. The thing is, you can’t drive very far with your heart if you’ve left your brain behind in the garage.

The hand is quicker than the eye?

In this chapter I’m asking you to focus your gaze on my right hand, where I’m fanning a deck of cards, each of which has a different skill.

Each skill painted on one of these cards is so dangerous that if you master it the government often enough makes you an offer you can’t refuse — “Work for us and follow our orders or we have a nice dungeon for you where you’ll never be heard from again.”

You’ll find out what I’m holding in my left hand by the end of this book.

On one card you see a man in a Tuxedo swinging a shiny stopwatch on a chain, and telling you in a soothing voice that your eyelids are getting heavy.

On another card there’s a man dressed in white cotton with a black belt whose hands are so fast that they might make master illusionist Chris Angel’s hands seem slow by comparison.

I start dealing the cards so you can see the jacks of a trade who can make undetectable forgeries of twenty-dollar bills, driver’s licenses, passports, or even centuries-old oil paintings by Rembrandt.

This next card is interesting because it shows a man sitting at a casino Blackjack table with a big stack of playing chips in front of him. Behind him in this picture it isn’t a police officer or a CIA agent threatening him, but there is a scary-looking goon tapping him on the shoulder. What’s that in the word balloon about “counting cards”?

Then there’s a run of black-suited cards showing men opening safes with combination locks, picking locks needing keys, bumping into men in suits and palming their wallets.

There are red cards showing men with knowledge of manufacturing and deploying any sort of explosive device or weapon’s system.

Finally, there’s an entire suit just for scientists, mathematicians, and engineers who know everything from how to hide a complex message in your iPhone’s photo of a kitten to how to refine ore into shapes of Uranium-235 that when forced together suddenly inside a suitcase-sized device can turn a shopping district into a smoldering, radioactive Hazmat-suit zone.

The cliché is that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but a lot of the time it’s when you know a lot about something — and have really, really practiced it so that you can practically do it in your sleep — that you can use it to devastating effect.

Ever wonder what the elusive definition of “cool” really is? It comes down to a deep well of having mastered useful skills, and being so comfortable about it that you don’t feel you need to show them off. So when one of them does come to light it always comes across as a surprise.

Bill Bixby played in a TV series called The Magician that ran only two seasons, 1973 and 1974. We’re talking about a short-lived TV series that I haven’t seen in a quarter of a century. I don’t remember the show being all that memorable, except for one scene, where Bixby — playing a stage magician who uses his skills off the stage to help out people in trouble — is having a conversation while casually tossing one playing card after another into a hat a couple of yards away, never missing. At the end of the conversation he’s asked, “How long it take you to learn to do that?” He answers something like, “About a year and a half.” He pauses. “Every day. For an hour.”

The reason that scene stuck with me is that I lived in the same house with that truth. My father was one of the best violinists who ever lived, and he got that way by going into a room by himself, every day, and practicing for hours. Now there have to be natural talents for all that practicing to take. Robert A. Heinlein, writing in Time Enough for Love, put it this way: “Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”

Not everyone has the talent to make himself into a world-class violinist. And the talent isn’t always passed down to the next generation: my father’s only son didn’t have it. But what I did get from growing up with such a person as my role model — my hero — was the certainty that if I found something in myself that came to me more easily than it did others, by practicing it relentlessly I could make myself excellent at it.

I have spent my life sussing out my capacities and incapacities, and if I appear slothful in some areas it’s because I’ve made myself focus on developing to the greatest extent I can those capacities where nature has given me a head start.

I am not a man of very much natural faith, but if I do have one it’s this: in each of us there is something we have a natural capacity to do which — if we’re relentless about finding and developing it in ourselves, and we’re not so unlucky as to have no chance at all ever to find it — this can be a gift we can offer to the world.

Each of what appears to be a dark talent in the list above — everything from hands that can kill with a blow to committing thefts, even to the ability to murder millions — has a flip side, a way this talent can be developed for beautiful and great purposes.

That’s why it’s so important not only that we find what it is in our selves that make us cool, but that once having found it we also make certain that we never become the slave or puppet to someone who will use us as their weapons system.

Fighting, trickery, and stealth are not necessarily wrong; but when those skills are mastered they do need to be used righteously.

I think that may be why the Harry Potter books are so immensely popular, because that’s the lesson our age has desperately needed J.K. Rowling to teach us. There are always wannabe Lord Voldemorts among us — with names like Hitler, Stalin, Mao — and each of us has a Harry Potter somewhere inside waiting to be whisked away for wizard classes.

The truth is, you’re going to have to find your inner Harry Potter on your own, because there’s no Platform 9-3/4 to board the Hogwarts Express, and if you think about it, there’s really no such thing as a Muggle.


Next in Unchaining the Human Heart — A Revolutionary Manifesto will be Chapter XXII: No Secrets Allowed (Except Ours)

Unchaining the Human Heart — A Revolutionary Manifesto is
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.

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