Our world needs great human beings, great citizens who add value and make the world a better place. Those people who inspire hope and spread kindness, not hate and division. The creatives and creators, the grafters, the implementers, carers and helpers. The ones that find solutions instead of constantly focusing on the problem. Businesses also needs these people - great employees who serve customers and build great brands. And perhaps most importantly of all, children need great human beings to be great parents, teachers and role models.
How do we inspire the next generation? What role does FE have? How can we equip our learners to be better people, citizens and employees?
I often think about what I am passing on to my children, and how they will remember me. My father was of the old school parenting tradition and that didn’t work for me. I remember listening to a Sophie Dahl interview and she recounted how her father would make so many things fun and exciting. And I try every day to fill my children’s lives with love, fun and the feeling that they are safe (psychologically, physically, emotionally and spiritually). As the great Maya Angelou once said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I think there are essentially 4 R’s that make a great human being. And like anything great they take time.
Nothing great, including the creation of a great human being happens by accident. We are not a reflection of what we think and do occasionally. We are a reflection of what we think and do habitually.
Surely, the role of any educator from parent to teacher is to foster the art of positive habit and ritual. In his book Daily Rituals author Mason Curry talks of the importance of solid routines to create a well-worn groove for our mental energy that helps stave off the tyranny of moods. Adding that the surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time: decide what you want or ought to do during the day, then always do it at exactly the same time every day, and passion will naturally flow.
This is the opposite of what too many of us believe. That variety is the key, and that boredom or repetition is the enemy. And yet when we scrape the surface of greatness, whether prolific authors, celebrity footballers or Olympic superstars what we find is repetition and ritual.
We tend to look at greatness in any form and imagine that it was just luck or some outrageous talent. It never is. Stephen King writes every day of the year, including his birthday and holidays, and he almost never lets himself quit before he reaches his daily quota of two thousand words. King is just one of 161 inspired—and inspiring—minds, among them, novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians, who describe how they subtly manoeuvre the many (self-inflicted) obstacles and (self-imposed) daily rituals to get the work they love done, whether by waking early or staying up late. Ritual is their secret weapon toward brilliance.
Carl Jung once said, “Inspiration is for amateurs.” Ritual is what set ups the conditions for greatness. Take a moment to consider what positive ritual you could instill into your life that would get you closer to your goals and/or improve your health and wellbeing. What rituals could you instill at home to foster connection? What rituals could you encourage so you’re your students learn to tap into their brilliance?
Life can be tough. There are no free passes. No overnight success. The world around us is changing so quickly. Resilience is another necessary trait of a great human being. It is also a cumulative side effect of ritual. When we decide to include a positive habit into our life and do that thing every day whether we want to or feel like it or not we also develop the resilience muscle. We know that we have the capability to see things through, to get stuff done which in turn, bolsters self-esteem.
This is not always easy. If it was then everyone would be doing it, but everyone is not doing it. Instead, too many of us are choosing what is easy over what is right, deciding to do what we want, when we want because we believe that’s what will make us happy. But happiness doesn’t come from ease it comes from making choices and working toward outcomes that are important to us.
Renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi said, “[The] ability to persevere despite obstacles and setbacks is the quality people most admire in others, and justly so: it is probably the most important trait not only for succeeding in life, but for enjoying it as well.”
Resilience comes from knowing we have the resources to deal with whatever life throws at us. What a gift to foster in learners, children and employees. Perhaps a little surprisingly resilience also comes from a willingness to be vulnerable. An appreciation that none of us are perfect. We mess up but we can always try again and do better. Vulnerability is not weakness it is the opposite.
Dr. Brené Brown has studied vulnerability. After explaining that vulnerability is the emotion that accompanies risk and uncertainty, Brown asked a room full of special forces military personnel whether any of them had ever undertaken or witnessed a courageous act that did not require them to feel vulnerable. None of the soldiers could come up with a single example of courageousness in which vulnerability hadn’t come along for the ride. In other words, as soon as the soldiers focused on their actual experiences of being courageous, the myth of vulnerability and weakness crumbled.
When we encourage our children, students or employees to push out into the unknown, at least for them, it’s scary. But when we give people permission to fail, figure things out and try again they are more likely to be inspired by the challenge than daunted by it.
When we open ourselves up to vulnerability, we open ourselves up to courage and creativity. When we let go of our perfectionist tendencies and our fear of failure, we find the bravery to improve ourselves and to have difficult, important conversations with our colleagues, students or children.
Take a moment to consider how you have fostered resilience in yourself. When was the last time you persevered and pushed through difficult emotions? How can you encourage your students, kids or employees to recognize that nothing great happens without vulnerability, failure and the resilience to keep going?
A great human being is always a responsible human being. We may like to hang out with friends who are a little crazy and always up for a laugh but who do we call when the chips are down? Who do we want in our corner when we need to deliver?
Responsibility is the combination of two words – response and able. In other words, being responsible is fostering an ability to respond. That’s it. Having the resources or knowing where to get them to get the job done.
The world may have changed, and technology will continue to impact what we do, how we spend our time and what jobs we do in the future but it’s hard to imagine a time where responsibility will no longer be valued.
It includes a bunch of other traits that can essentially be bundled up in the phrase – do what you say you will do. It can seem like an old-fashioned idea in a world of fake news and click bait, but we are still impressed by those who keep their word. We are still enamoured by those people who do what they say they will do and deliver regardless of the obstacles they faced. The world will always need responsibility, dependability and reliability – especially in the workplace.
Take a moment to consider how you have fostered responsibility in yourself. When was the last time you took responsibility for getting something done? How can you encourage your students, kids or employees to be responsible for the things they commit to?
And finally, a great human being has respect. Respect for themselves and what they offer the world and also respect for others. Again, this can almost feel like an out-dated or old idea, especially after twenty minutes on social media where no one seems to respect anyone.
For me the place to start is the ability to respect difference. We are all so different. There is no one type of great human being – greatness comes in all shapes and sizes. There is greatness in both genders, all sexual orientations, ethnicity, educational background and geography. Human diversity is our greatest strength not a weakness. When we listen to other points of view we may see a different perspective, that new outlook can open our eyes to different experiences and opportunities. Everyone has value to add. This is why travel can be such a profound experience – we see difference in different places while also recognising our deep similarity and humanity. We may be different, but we are all human.
We don’t have to agree with someone to get on with them. It is possible to have wildly different views with someone and still love and care about them. Just don’t bring up the subject at dinner!
Rolled up into respect is kindness. Once again, a trait that seems to be in decline in the world. This too is very simple – treat people the way you want to be treated yourself.
Take a moment to consider the last time you were kind to someone? When were you last kind to a stranger for no reason at all? How can you encourage your students, kids or employees to be kind to each other?
Perhaps the answer to the question, “What makes a great human being?” lies in the Serenity Prayer…
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Sid Madge is founder of Meee (My Education Employment Enterprise) which draws on the best creativity and thinking from the worlds of branding, psychology, neuroscience, education and sociology, to help people achieve extraordinary lives.
“From pupils to CEOs, we’ve helped thousands find their magic to transform themselves, their communities and their organisations. At Meee, we inspire people to excel. Our business is founded on the idea that we’re all unique and at our best we can all be amazing. By using our values and natural strengths, combined with support from others, we can release the magic that is in all of us to thrive. Meee creates engaging, energising and effective experiences that equip people to perform at their very best. And we make it fun.”
Sid Madge is also author of the ‘Meee in Minute’ series of books which each offer 60 ways to change your life, work-, or family-life in 60 seconds.