On a history of goodness

Early influences are always catalogued by observers of actions that disrupt the equilibrium of either the self or others. Thus, if one submits to psychotherapy, a history must be taken. In my very first psychotherapy session, when I was 22 years old, my therapist said: “So, everything was fine until you were 19?!” Which , of course, affirmed. The subsequent and continuing journey into the shadows of both my memory and my self reveals of course that this is not so. Fine cannot describe the lived experience of any human being. For lived experience though delicate is not as bland as good days are generally imagined to be.

However, the influence and question of goodness remains central to any history. For, through early experiences of, and identification with, goodness, one can learn to transcend the lure of descents into compromise with, and overwhelming sadness at, the state of things around one.

In recent years I have become a devotee of the writings and utterances of the great and brave thinkers, Chomsky and Zinn. Importantly, they both speak of their early influences in terms of their observations of the trauma of the working class poor of whom they were a part. The source of their resilience in dedicating their lives to speaking up for the poor and politically powerless is not known to me. Zinn, in his late years, appeared in video interviews to have achieved a deep inner peace of the kind reserved for the gurus who have removed themselves from the world in order to meditate it back to wholeness. Chomsky remains robust in his campaign to out the powerful who drive us towards extinction; the dispossession of the poor, their dignity and economic rights, being a mere step on this path.

As political anarchists and philosophers they do not appear to reference a source of goodness as their bulwark against the resistance they encountered, and which Chomsky and his ilk, continue to experience.

So, what drives and sustains these men, and others like them, women among them? And if not goodness, then what?

Growing up Catholic, my own early benchmarks of goodness were found in the likes of Mother Teresa, Jesus Christ, and a plethora of saints, after some of whom my sisters and I were named. While Mother Teresa was reportedly not as saintly as portrayed by her paymasters, the image of her that was presented to me was flawless and thus worthy of emulation. Therefore, in terms of this aspect of my personal history, her eventual exposure as a weak effigy of charity, is not as important as might be thought. Jesus Christ was presented as both totally loving and courageously defiant. In this, therefore, he was to be emulated as much as mythological heros who are willing to tolerate public rejection and disdain in order to realise goodness in the world around them. The plethora of saints were most inspiring in their named attributes, ranging from those who can help one to find lost things to those who would die rather than recant their core beliefs.

While my spiritual journey no longer requires identification with these historical bodies, their early influences remain profound, I realise, and for this at least I am indebted to my parents, who filled our minds with beliefs in the power of goodness to overcome all else.

(to be continued)


On keeping the faith

Recently, one of my teenage sons (18, finally embracing the power of his mind to deliver great school results) said: “Mom, how did you keep the faith? I mean, I would have given up on me. I mean, think about it: at 11 I was acting out, at 14 I was doing the drinking thing, and then up until 4 months ago, I wasn’t even doing my homework. If I was you, I would’ve lost faith in me a long time ago.”
My response: darling, you forget that I see you. I know you. So faith in you is inevitable.
Thinking about this conversation this morning as I voicenoted him to wish him well with his Maths exam, I thought of how much of our narrative about teenagers and children in general contains worry.
On the moms’ groups I’m on, the flavour of most of the posts ranges from mild worry (about minor infections and the like) to major worry (about peer groups, the internet of things, schoolyard bullying, teen sex, drug use and abuse…)
In the work that I do with young people, their narrative ranges from mild irritation with their parents (about restrictions related to dress sense and curfews and the like) to major depression (inter alia, about having felt for most of their lives that they need to keep themselves hidden from their parents or simply needing to keep their heads down to dodge the missiles).
Somewhere inbetween these polarities lives a place in which parents and children communicate openly. And children thrive through their misfortunes and poor choices and heartbreaks as they come back to parents who shine back at them a belief that they have all that they need inside them to make life work.
Somewhere else lives a place in which parents look at their children and say, like the fantastic Oliver Sacks, that they feel reassured by the generation to which they will eventually hand over the world.
I, gratefully, have children whom I admire and teach me things about myself and the world.
I, gratefully, have brave children who call me on my stuff and share their opinions (even the ones I really don’t like) freely.
I, gratefully, look at and listen to them and their friends and rejoice in the knowledge that we are sending beautiful, strong and wise young people out into the world who have everything they need inside them to make their and other lives better.
I hope all of you feel this way too.

On exams and the future

Something I wrote for the members of The Village; a great FB page giving virtual expression to the real wisdom that it takes a village to raise a child .

On exams and the future
I’ve been reading with empathy and interest the posts about exams, and the natural concerns that we all have when our kids slack off or seem to be totally disengaged. Please god, we think, can they not just do it?! Please don’t let them fail.
On the continuum of parenting, I sometimes think that, in general, how we handle our children’s exams is influenced by both ends of a spectrum that has nurture on the one side and control on the other.
Watching from the sidelines as our children tackle this request from the world to perform in order to be rewarded, throws up not only all of our own performance-for-reward anxieties, but also sometimes shows the fault lines in our own experiences of what is required to be successful.
My own early rewards were for academic performance, so I’ve often defaulted to that safety net when parenting . This despite knowing on the basis of evidence that the
C-streamers often employ the A-streamers. And then the struggle really begins.
But, slowly, and as my own parenting and career journey has unfolded , and my children have matured, a new narrative has entered our conversations. This is, for the sake of brevity and easy consumption, best summarised like this :

  1. You are here (on the planet) to fulfill your potential. The planet desperately needs you to do so.
  2. Your potential stretches way beyond academic performance.
  3. What the content of that potential is, will be revealed to you throughout your life. Now, we can only see a small part of it.
  4. The world of work is tough, and requires exceptional resilience .
  5. See these exams as a test of your resilience mostly . You can always redo them if you don’t get the results you need or want, but save yourself that pain if you can.
  6. Know that I truly believe that you are here so that the divine purpose of the universe can be fulfilled, and how you contribute to that will be unique as it is for everyone.
  7. And, finally , my financial commitment to you is 15 years of free education at the best institutions I can afford . My emotional commitment to you is infinite. Use both as much as you can.

On giftedness

Below is the link to an important article; important because it engages with the complexity of giftedness and prodigiousness: its origins and potential to actualise given multiple settings.
Based on experience (albeit anecdotal) I can attest to inter alia the importance of factors/expressions such as autodidactism, working memory, early exposure and interest and acceptance shown by adults, play and flow, and even brain size ( the latter confirmed by a paediatrician I worked with in the late 90s).
What I have noticed as well is that there is an unfortunate ‘democratising’ narrative that stops adults from giving children the support they need in the forms they most need it, and that would make the difference between them ‘becoming’ a gifted adult and becoming a so-called deviant.
When I stop doing the work that I do now, which largely focuses on expanding access to basic education rights for most people, I think I will return to this question of how to provide enabling environments for gifted or even prodigious children and adults .
One thing that is very important to note is that high-end education systems and institutions often work in ways that mitigate the power their resources provide to facilitate giftedness as their goals are linked to economic development as narrowly prescribed. The excellent school my sons attend, for example , is determined to raise captains of industry, this despite the evidence that most MDs have IQs below the gifted threshold.
I could write more but I have to get back to my work now . But I wanted to highlight this important topic and the critical issues surrounding it.

Gladwell’s practice theory is only partly right. A host of things must line up for the would-be prodigy to thrive

Writing things I cannot say

I’m the one who lights her mind on filaments of nothing. Thus I can hold some of your soul in my mind. As we weave tinsel on high days and sift ground things on ordinary days.

I’m the one who raised them from seeds. I made them awareness beings.

Though I am not the myth you speak of in harsh tones nor am I wonder, I am mystery yes.

And like the bud that closes, as in a smile, and opens, as if with eyes that do not speak any more, I am cocooned here.

There are beautiful views: of fragile things that do not speak. Small sounds that flight my thoughts outside.

If I wrote it all down. And out. Then would I say: I’m a writer?

For if this is all there is, it would have been too little and so much I would weep for absence and loss, and unexpected gifts beyond the infinites of reach and wishing wells. This is wonder.

Yet all there is: all these moments bring me here and thus. My heart is open and still.  My mind lights itself, on small things.

Summer late 2015

I love that it’s summer, and that what this means is that we live with the doors open till after the sun has gone down. And children’s voices calling and laughing allow us to imagine them on lawns playing last-century games; like the ones that left marks on our bodies: grass stains and bruises and flushed cheeks.

The air is evening still as summer air is. And the dog lies at the door on the cool of outside, while small insects fly in, but remain hovering, as there’s too much light for the smell of our bodies to be any kind of landing place.

The boys arrive back from a tour through the neighbourhood, lately, as the sun sets: young titans fresh from swimming and freedom. And their voices, deep, and tempered by exercise and satisfaction, roll through the house as they clatter plates to find food left waiting under coverings to escape the flies, who have also arrived.

There’s a small promise of a restful night as the air cools, and the sounds from the road become fewer and further apart. And if there was no more work to be done I would spend it under the tree and perhaps do nothing but listen and breathe and wait for sleep.

Living in the sublime

Beauty is commonplace. Yet, the sublime is not. And, therefore, to write, as an artist, one must be unusual. Simultaneously, one must reference, albeit obliquely and cleverly, all that has been written before. Always show; never tell.

Yet, all the moments I have rendered most sublime are those in which I use commonplace words, and gestures that I have repeated. How, then, does feeling in the sublime capture everything that has gone before it and yet offer itself as  discovery?  How is it possible that nothing in the sublime is opaque any longer, and yet its unravelling is neither frayed nor worn?