Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Strictly come...goodbye, John Sergeant

I'm sure, no matter how fond anyone is of John Sergeant, we can all agree that he is a bad dancer and has probably improved as far as he can.

There is no shame in that; I certainly could never be the journalist he is. Like John Simpson, he is a true journalist of the old school - he has travelled the world, worked at his craft, asked the tough questions and his analysis is second to none. He has also shown the loveliest personality on "Strictly come dancing" - game for anything, graciousness in the face of ungracious judges, and a wonderful self-deprecating humour. Marvellous.

If this were "I'm a celebrity...get me out of here", the yearly jungle show hosted by Ant and Dec, personality would be everything, and I would be voting my heart out for John Sergeant to win - not least because he isn't the young, vacuous looker or the older-celebrity-searching-for-the-fountain-of-youth that overpopulates the show. John Sergeant is just...John Sergeant, and I love that.

Alas, this is "Strictly come *dancing*". There is skill involved here, and NO ONE should win on personality alone. John Sergeant has been saved by the popular vote every week. This was fine as long as other bad dancers were being eliminated. Now that dancers better than John are losing out, it's a travesty. John bowed out saying that he had a real chance of winning, and "that even for me, that would be a joke too far."

I'm now about to say something that will be fiercely unpopular: he was absolutely RIGHT.

I'm saddened, but not surprised, at how many people feel the need to excuse his leaving by saying he was bullied by the BBC and the judges. I doubt the BBC would have given him a hard time; John's presence generated a great deal in viewing figures and revenue. As for the judges, John shrugged their comments off week after week. But people have reacted with rage, both at him and at the judges, for this decision.


Because he has forced us to look in a mirror and reminded us that there is something we're not good at. A lot of things, in fact. When he spoke the truth in public, he reminded us of this truth that we are so desperate to keep private.

We have become a society of "I can do anything I want" affirmation addicts. I can make myself feel better by telling myself I can do and be anything and anyone, we cry. Truth is, no you can't, and accepting your limitations is as freeing as embracing your gifts. Most of us will never be talented athletes, gifted musicians, academics. Yet we all feel the need to be extraordinary at something and resent the fact when, simply by dint of probability, we end up being ordinary.

But ordinary isn't a death sentence. Autumn leaves are ordinary. Cherry blossoms are ordinary. They happen all the time. Ordinary days make up the majority of our lives. Love is built and maintained by the ordinary things. That doesn't make them any less breathtaking or beautiful - and we all are in our own way: quiet or loud, steady or passionate, good listener or raconteur. So we must take our talents and put them at the service of our little corner of the world and make it a better place. And we must admit to what we can't do and allow those who can to do.

A black thread in a tapestry will never be gold. But it will be one of the most essential and abundant colours of the tapestry, and without it, the tapestry would not exist. So even though our eyes are more caught by the gold, let us always give thanks for the black thread.

John Sergeant said, I can't dance and so I'm bowing out of a dancing competition because someone who CAN dance should win this. He's right. If only everyone would do this: I can't do this job, so X should. I, George W. Bush, can't think my way out of a paper bag, so I shouldn't be president. I am really bad with people, so I shouldn't come near the priesthood, but my gifts lie in this direction. Imagine a world where people used their talents and by embracing weaknesses, harnessed their hidden strengths - a quick temper to galvanise people to action, for example. Bluntness to get to the heart of a situation. And so on.

So let's make "I can't" as much a statement of integrity as "Yes, I (we) can." An "I can't" that isn't "I won't" or "I don't want to try" - one that is simply a statement of truth. "I can't lift 100 lbs, so maybe I shouldn't be a firefighter until I work out and see if I can." "I can't understand engines, so I shouldn't try fixing my car." And so on.

So, everyone, repeat after me: "I can't...

and that's ok."

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