Education and the Wonder and Mystery of the Child

The now late John D McDonald was a prolific author of a series of novels that probably end up in the “Crime” section of libraries and book shops.  He wrote a highly popular series where the main character was Travis McGee who lived in a house boat called the “Busted Flush” which was moored at Slip 18 Bahia Mar in Fort Lauderdale in Florida. I was chatting to an American friend of mine the other day and apparently that address actually exists. John D – as he became known – chose to withdraw from the world and lived with his wife in voluntary isolation in Florida. I enjoy the stories a great deal. They are well and crisply written and call on your own imagination. The outcomes are seldom obvious. A reviewer has described them as stories that “not only knock you down, they rabbit punch you while you are on the floor.”  One of the reasons I enjoy them is that John D uses them to get across his own, often amusing, often cynical and often deeply sad view of where we have taken and are busy taking our society. Paradoxically there is an underlying optimism that we can get it right. His hero, Travis McGee – always does. As the stories unfold John D habitually drops in provocative little chewy bits about what we are doing to ourselves and our children and our society and our planet. He is quite obviously deeply angry about the way in which we are doing things in all these areas. So am I! Frankly so should you be! If you are not I am not sure you grasp the reality of the cess pit we are in

I was rereading one the stories this morning – “A Purple Place for Dying” (the McGee stories all have a colour in the title) – and I came across his comments on education:

“Education is something which should be apart from the necessities of earning a living, not a tool therefor. It needs contemplation, fallow periods, and the measured and guided study of the history of man’s reiteration of the most agonizing question of all: WHY?”

He goes on:

“A devoted technician is seldom and educated man. He can be a useful man, a contented man, a busy man. But he has no (more) sense of the mystery and wonder and paradox of existence……” and it is surely an awareness of this “sense of mystery” that entitles us to use the sobriquet “I am human!”

And lo (sic) there is a headline in Business News of 20th January that reads:

“White Paper prioritises artisan training at colleges”

In John D’s terms – and there are thank goodness, a few, albeit very, very few, exceptions – our schools are not educating our children.  They teach them some skills and some facts and do little or nothing about calling forth – educare – the humanity that we are all blessed with. It would seem that with the current system of what we call education what we have and can look forward to is a crop of essentially uneducated young people who are dab hands with a screwdriver! In other words the system is producing and will continue to do so – technicians.

Small wonder that our children are kicking against the system with ever increasing vigour and with often, very unfortunate results. Small wonder that they disappear into what appears to be the magical, mysterious world of TV, video games, drugs and other mind-bending activities. Certainly the so-called practical world we offer them will have little appeal to a newly arrived mind that itself is a product of the mystery and the magic of existence.

This is the challenge that we are failing and failing miserably, to meet – and thank goodness for the few exceptions.  As it says in the Christian New Testament in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke “ we must render under Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s” In other words we must give due attention to the screwdriver (whatever that might mean)  without neglecting the mystery of the child that presents itself for education.

As it stands it is small wonder that both the child and our society are in very deep trouble indeed.

What it means to be Human.

 One of the ideas that come up from time to time when this conundrum is considered is that “we are spiritual beings having a physical experience”. We tend to nod sagely without really examining the implications of that statement. If we use our mythology as a yardstick it is apparent that the gods of mythology do not change. They come into existence fully developed complete with the powers that they are endowed with. They go through a great number of often unpleasant experiences without apparently being particularly affected either negatively or positively. Quite what happens to them is never quite clear.
 Not so we humans. The very process of birth itself has an enormous effect on us. So does the often painful and unpleasant process of growing up and then entering into the mainstream of life. Once we are in that mainstream, what we call “adulthood”, we are again subjected to a whole variety of experiences.  I doubt is there is anyone who escapes that process without a greater or lesser degree of discomfort and even outright pain. If there is then they have totally escaped mention in the history books. What the history books and our legends and our poetry and our novels and our art are full of is both the joy and wonder as well as the pain and difficulties that we encounter as humans.  We often wonder why we were ever born. The effects of all this on us are huge – often verging on what we regard as the catastrophic. Some of us succumb to these events even to the point of leaving this life or erect very high defences to “protect” us. This, in reality, is just another way of dying. Either way we stop the very process of life itself. We can get very subtle about this. A young woman for whom I have a great deal of time – although she is not likely to see that at this moment in time – is going through an awkward time in her life with a relationship that right now is not in the shape that neither he nor she want. He reached out, clumsily, it is true. Yet he risked a lot and reached out by inviting her to an event.  She refused on the grounds that she would not have time to either change or shower! What she is not seeing is how she vanished into the protection of attempting to present a picture that she thought he would want.  Both are now licking their wounds each blaming the other.
Now here comes the trick that we all need to practice – not learn  -for it is an intrinsic part of our magnificent humanity – how to bounce back! It seems to be part of the human condition and a wonderful one at that, this ability to mess it up, in all the glorious ways that we are capable of doing this, and then BOUNCE BACK. To take a long hard look at what we did, check it against the results we got, look at the possibility that we might be wrong and then BOUNCE BACK.
This ability is surely the greatest evidence of mental health. Life is not a smooth process and it is more than evident that it is not meant to be. One of the dicta that I attempt to live with that Life will not give you something you cannot handle. Implicit in that statement is that it will always give us things to handle and that we can therefore bounce back precisely because we can handle it.
So here is the question. Do you succumb to the stuff that life presents you with? Do you refuse to engage the challenges in your relationships – all of them, work and personal? Do you walk away, retreat, feeling sorry for yourself  or do you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again? It is this latter ability to bounce back that makes us truly Human.


I was recently asked to talk to a group of teachers about how to both approach their pupils with Respect and how to also inculcate the ethic of Respect into those same children. This particular group of teachers were teaching 6-8 year olds.

Tricky? Of course just about anything to do with young children is tricky. I know!  My youngest son is 7. To get inside that mind and get some sort of idea of how he thinks and sees the world he lives in is a daily challenge. One thing is a very clear. His thought processes are very much his own and I have an idea that just as I wrestle to come to grips with his thought processes so he equally wrestles with coming to grips with the way that my mind works. The challenge is equally great for both of us and contains huge learning opportunities for both of us. This is the nub of the matter. All those involved with the learning processes of children – this means parents as well as their so-called formal teachers – need to realise – make real – the dialogic nature of the teaching process. Yes the teacher teaches and if the teacher is not open to learning from the pupil and especially young children, then the whole process dies and does not come even close to realising its potential value for either teacher or pupil.

The first question for any teacher or parent in any teaching event is simply this: “What can I learn from what and also from those whom I am about to teach? What can I learn about myself?” So it is with this conundrum of “teaching” Respect.

It is probably safe to say that no one will seriously argue with the proposition that young children learn a great deal, perhaps most, through the process of imitation. They copy that which is in their immediate vicinity. This should scare both parents and teachers half to death. The question which all educators needs must ask themselves is this “Am I worth copying? Do I have Self –respect” Ouch and again Ouch!

As is my wont in my wrestling with concepts when approaching this subject I started with looking at the word “Respect” itself. What does it actually mean?  What does the word itself imply beyond the way it is generally used? Let us look at the construction of the word. What are its component parts? The first part is the prefix ‘re’. This is widely used in English and has the connotation of ‘again’. The second bit, ‘spect’ comes from the Latin and basically means ‘to see’ (as in ‘spectator’ ‘spectacles‘). Put them together and we have “to see again”. This is the essential basic energy of the word.

This is the challenge for the teacher. It will be very difficult for the teacher to teach the young pupil anything about the notion of Respect until the teacher is willing to “see themselves again” and again and again and yet again. In other words is the teacher willing and able to stand in front of the mirror, perhaps literally, and look at themselves and be OK with what they see. Is the teacher able to stand in front of the mirror and acknowledge that they might make mistakes, be inconsiderate, just be downright silly, be capable of all the unproductive behaviours that we are capable of as human beings and still be OK with what they see?

This is not as complex as it sounds. It is a given that the teacher cannot teach the three R’s – Reading, ’Riting, ‘Rithmetic until they have a pretty sound grasp of those skills. The whole matter of Respect is no different!

To attain this grasp of the notion of Respect requires a high level of self-development and this is the crux question for the teacher and parent. How much Self-respect does the teacher have? Before attempting to teach the pupil, ask the teacher must ask themselves: “What do I know about ME? How much self – development work have I done? Do I like what see in the mirror despite and perhaps, because of, its flaws?” Until the teacher/parent has embarked upon this often rocky and sometimes painful path of engaging themselves and their own Self-respect then I am not sure that they are qualified to either teach or demand Respect from their children.

This is the old question. Do you want something from Life? Good. Then ask yourself “How much am I giving out?” You want Respect? Great. Then go learn about You!

The Paradox of Selfishness

Those of you who have attended The Harlequin Experience will remember that one of the ideas that I put forward for consideration is that life is a selfish process. This is not an easy idea to grasp for several reasons. First it cuts right across the ideas of conventional society that one of the greatest thing we can do is – and it is literally chipped in stone on a good number of the war memorials that litter our public gardens – is to give up our lives for others. Second it is a basic tenet of the two fathers of our Protestant religions, Luther and Calvin, that we are not worth much and that we are simply not very important in the greater scheme of things. Essentially they see any attempt to make ourselves important or worthwhile or to even love ourselves in any way as “sinful”.

With just these two foundation stones in place the idea of putting yourself first becomes difficult.

Let us look at the practical implications of always putting someone else first.

How on earth are you going to be able to do something intelligent for anyone else until you are in at least reasonably good order? They tell us this on the airplanes we all use when the airhostess stands in front – sadly these days it is too often a recording- and says “in the unlikely event of a sudden loss of pressure the panel above your head will fall open and an oxygen mask will drop out. Pull it towards you with a sharp jerk, place it over your nose and mouth and MAKE SURE IT IS WORKING PROPERLY BEFORE HELPING OTHERS! You will not be of much use to me or anyone else if you are asphyxiating!

Another of the things we ask you to consider is the idea is that it essential to love yourself before you can even think of saying to someone else “I love you” and in that moment. For us the logic behind this is inescapable. How can you possibly ask someone to love you if you do not love yourself? Why on earth should they bother if you cant?

There is one question that we need to ask ourselves and continue asking ourselves until we can answer it with a resounding YES and it is this:


Forgiveness, The myth

There is nothing wrong with the concept of forgiveness as such ,what does matter is the energy behind act of forgiveness.

There are two ideas that we need to wrestle with here.

The first is the one expressed in the short story of “The Little Soul” ( you can Google this – wish I had written it and I didn’t) which says that whatever is done to us by someone is done by that person as a support to enable us to achieve whatever we want to achieve in this life. So if you want to experience what it is to forgive then someone has to agree to do something to you so that you can forgive them! From this comes that idea that nothing bad can EVER happen to us! This is not as extraordinary as it sounds. If you work with the idea that whatever happens to us has value or, put differently, is an opportunity for us to learn something, then whatever happens is not some random event. Someone had to do that thing to us – consciously – so that we could have the experience that we have. We can of course hold tight to the 4F syndrome (remember?) and I am not sure of where that leaves us, except at the bottom of a very deep hole. For me the ideas expressed in “The Little Soul” make more than sense.

The second is this.  If nothing bad can ever happen to us then what can there be to forgive? What we need to do is ACCEPT both what happened to us and also the value of the person who caused what happened.

It is our ATTITUDE to what happens that makes it bad not the happening itself.

What we are usually saying when we forgive someone in the traditional way implies that we feel that they are bad or less in some way or another and that they will not really be able to function without our sanction or what we call “forgiveness”.  It gives us what can only be called a perverted sense of “power over”. In a very real sense we take our sense of our own lack of worth or powerlessness and dump it on them. Not very attractive!

Perhaps what we should be doing when someone does something to us which appears to require our “forgiveness” for their “badness” is simply send them flowers (I prefer chocolates!)and thank them for the opportunity they have given us to learn something about ourselves.

The Wolf Dream

I quite often feature in peoples dreams and I get up to some odd antics. More often than not the dream has little or nothing to do with me and I am nothing more than a symbol of something or another that is going on in the dreamer’s life. However every now and again one pops that seems to not only have relevance for the dreamer but also for me. I have their permission to share this dream with you and also my take on it.

Here is the dream as they told it me: Read more…

SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

The news item below comes from an emagazine I subscribe to called Gizmag which is presumably a combination of “gizmo” or gadget and magazine. It is full of some really interesting snippets and I came across this one which fairly took my breath away for the sheer breadth and width for that matter, of its arrogance:

“According to the latest statistics, every year approximately 2,500 babies die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in the U.S. alone, with thousands more falling victim to it around the world. In typical cases, an infant passes away in their sleep, with no apparent explanation. While various theories have been put forward, the exact cause of SIDS is unknown. While not offering an answer to the mystery, two students from Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) are working on a computer system, that could keep more babies from becoming SIDS statistics.”

Has anyone ever stopped to consider that maybe, just maybe the person(sic) concerned WANTED to leave? The arrogance of our medical system as it goes about prolonging life regardless of the cost both financial and what you might call spiritual is astounding. If our marvellous medical science – and it is marvellous in so many ways – cannot find a medical reason for SIDS then just maybe there is not one? Perhaps it is simply a decision made by another human being that it would be respectful to honour? Find – Google will bring it up – and read a very powerful bit of writing called “The Little Soul”.

In “The Prophet” Khalil Gibran also expresses this very beautifully when he reminds us that it is not our purpose as parents to make our children like us but rather to be the stable bow that enables the arrow (our child) to fly. In other words our parental purpose is to create a space that will enable our children to be who and what they are. And is this not also the real purpose of any relationship –to enable the beloved to realise, make real, who they are?

Distressed Property Sales

It is perhaps not too fanciful to say that our whole financial system is built on the the concept of the Mortgage. After all the whole financial edifice came crashing down when people started defaulting on their mortgage payments and the tsunami like effects of that are still being experienced. The principal behind the concept of the mortgage is simple enough.

To give us the illusion of security we have come to believe that we can “own” a piece of the earth. This is in itself a very odd concept indeed. However it is simple enough to see that this idea likely sprang from the very ancient territorial instincts that all animals seem to have. This instinct gives the animal concerned some protection of its food supply and reproduction rights. This is hardly the case these days and yet on the basis of that ancient drive we have now created a very strange edifice indeed.

This business of ownership appears to have it roots in the idea of “conquest” which is in itself a very odd concept indeed. How do you conquer someone? However having conquered the conqueror “gives” away portions of the “conquered” land to his supporters who are then expected to support him in keeping the conquered territory. They in turn give away smaller bits to others who will support them – and so on and so on. At the bottom of the heap are the ragtail and bobtail – you and me by and large – who are not seen to be worthy of a gift of land and still need somewhere to live and so we offer , forced actually, to “buy” our portion. We are seldom able to pay the price demanded so the “owner” generously (sic) allows us to have the use of the land under the illusion of ownership while we pay it off. In times gone by we paid it off by way of a share of the crops we produced and often in blood if the owner decided to go to war. I am sure that it is too much different today!

The etymology of the word “mortgage” says it all! It comes to us from the old French – “mort” meaning “death” and “gage” meaning “glove” and there we have it – The Glove of Death.

A friend of mine and I were having a conversation the other day and they mentioned that they were intending to buy a home and were looking at the long lists of homes that have been “repossessed” by the banks – interesting idea that – how can you repossess something you never owned in the first place? As they said, there are some “bargains” to be had! I suggested that they be very careful indeed of what they were taking on. Many if not all those homes had been bought by people with good intent of creating a safe place for both themselves and their families. Most of those homes will have echoed with the laughter of children and become imbued with the dreams and hopes of the parents. If you have not been there you can only imagine the real distress and real agony as the bank marches in with its hobnail boots and throws that family out. The Glove of Death takes a strangle hold. I am not sure that I would want to now go and live in such a home of distress.

I do not know what the answer is and it surely cannot be to throw people onto the street. For so long as we continue with the system we shall have distressed people as citizens and that cannot be good for business, our society and everyone else.

Time to change the system. If we do not the price we will have to pay is likely to be beyond our means to pay. Already it is very high indeed!

The Starling

I was sitting in the airport in Cape Town recently waiting for my flight to open when I heard a very familiar whistle. Despite its familiarity it was more than a little startling simply because it was so out of place. As I know a reasonable amount about our avifauna it was not difficult to identify as coming from a Red Wing Starling that was swooping around the  departure area and continually coming back to the floor to ceiling windows,  perching on one of the supports, peering longingly through the glass and uttering that rather forlorn whistle cross chirrup that is one of their signature calls. Read more…

They Owe You!

That your deal with them is strictly one-sided. Whether they were aware of it or not the protocol requires them to do their best to support you in the fulfilment of your game plan. It is they who need to learn how to do that. Ignorance of the protocol is no excuse and will not free them from the results of failing in their stated (even if only implied) and willingly assumed task of providing you with food, shelter, education and above all else an example that is worthwhile following. All that is required of you is to be whom and what you are. The reality is that there is very little else that you can do. For quite a while your freedom of action is severely circumscribed by your physical limitations. You cannot really take on the world for quite a while and neither can you express what your desires are or what your point of view is in any really coherent way. You simply do not have the vocabulary. It can be argued that this is pretty much the state of affairs until you attain majority. Man-made laws support this idea in some way or another and while the age varies slightly from society to society we have all sorts of legal and other limitations until we do attain the age of majority. The ball for the game that you are all playing is very much in their court, not yours.  The difficulty comes when they fail or at best fall short on what they actually undertook to do. You pretty much have to simply handle whatever they throw your way and all that you have in order to do that is the scraps you picked up from them. This pretty much throws you back on your own considerable resources and fortunately you are very well equipped. So despite the fact that while it seems safe to say that the relationship between you and you parents is quite unique in that it is completely one-sided and you are in many ways on your own all is not lost. So get busy!