‘Something’s wrong’ [being honest about challenge]

The tragic death of an experienced climber on Mount Everest who used the above phrase, and the pictures of climbers queuing whilst roped together near the summit that went viral recently, have once again shone a light on our apparently insatiable need to conquer self-doubt by completing increasingly difficult challenges.

We only need to look at the number of our friends and family who set themselves challenges related to charitable giving to recognise that the fashion of asking for donations whilst ‘pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone’ is at a fever-pitch. I write as someone who has done the very same – I do not exclude myself from this.

On the face of it (pardon the climbing pun), there is nothing wrong with any of it. We should want to support charities and it is good to push ourselves. But as with all things, there are limits and we should be very much aware of our motivation for making a decision to challenge ourselves. If it isn’t for unselfish reasons – but is aimed at getting more ‘likes’ and approval, or at satisfying our own vanity – then we have gone very wrong somewhere.

I remember a verse from the Bible that goes something like ‘do not show off your good deeds in public, but keep them quiet’ (there are similar sentiments in most religious texts), and I wonder whether this is something we all need reminding of? The point of challenging yourself is to improve yourself. But there is no need to improve yourself ‘publicly’. In some ways the real joy of improving your own education/spirituality/fitness, or whatever, is that it’s best done privately, and in the long term will have a more positive, lasting and inspirational effect on other people (when they do eventually find out), than it would were it performed in the public eye.

While paying my sincere respects to those who have lost their lives tragically on the slopes of our highest peak over the last twelve months, and throughout history, I believe there is a warning for all of us to take away. Something is wrong.

What is wrong, is that so many individuals feel a need to conquer Everest. There are many thousands of difficulties to face in this life, without needing to add more. Unless you are professional, seasoned climber, you should go no-where near this peak – and even if you are vastly experienced you should think long and hard before attempting it.

What is wrong is that some of us feel a need to gain acceptance by fulfilling challenges that other humans have not done, or have found incredibly hard. Acceptance comes from being oneself and accepting the faults of others – from love and forgiveness; not throwing ourselves out of aircraft with a parachute strapped on, hoping that the rip-cord will work.

What is wrong is that too many of us have begun to worship ‘difficulty’ and ‘hardship’ as true tests of human character, which is a vague truth, bent by superstition, and worryingly close to the right-wing ideals of supermen and superwomen. We do not want to venture down that path again.

Human character is tested in many, many ways, in ordinary life, in the simple every-day. Human character will be defined by our reaction to these, as well as to world events, to disasters, to trials and tribulations – many of which already occur just a few hours flight away from your coffee machine and comfy sofa.

So my plea to you, is that if you really wish to be incredible, super, fantastic, amazing – if you crave more acceptance, or if you believe that you must challenge yourself, fine. You can join the military, volunteer with a charity, find a cure for a terrible disease; ride a bike, run, leap; do whatever you wish to do and whatever makes you happy. But for God’s sake, for all our sakes, don’t make a huge song and dance about it. Do it quietly and calmly, and don’t expect everyone to love you when your challenge is finished. We all have different priorities and needs, because we are all different people.

I grin ironically as I write, because I know that I have been guilty of making decisions based on the views of others myself. However, I am learning, as we learn – and we continue to believe that we increase in wisdom – I trust that we will make wiser, more careful decisions: Decisions that will preserve life, promote peace, increase happiness, motivate others to good, but never put our own selfish vanity first.

No challenge is worth your life, unless it saves many more.

God bless

Matt

Being honest [about friendship]

Only child. Brother. Sister. Daughter. Mother…

We are all part of a family, no matter how small or fragile that family might be. There is a sense of belonging. But I’ve always believed that friends can make a massive impact on our experience, every day.

The hardest thing about growing up, besides the awful dullness of adult responsibilities (home ownership, cooking, washing, DIY etc…), is surely that our friends come and, sometimes quite painfully, go.

I read a quote online earlier today – you may have seen it. It suggests that although friends come and go they are all meant to be in your story and you are meant to part of theirs. Somehow we learn from each other that it’s ok to fall out of touch but not stop caring about someone, that when eventually you meet again the old times will rush back, and that the positive memories we have of spending time with each other will never fade.

It’s ok. And to quote Robin Williams in one of his finest movie moments ‘It’s not your fault’. It’s just how it is.

So I pay tribute to all my friends, no matter where you are or what you doing, know that I haven’t forgotten, that I still have the same love for you. And even if I haven’t heard from you for ages, or we’re not even sure what each other are doing, how many kids we have or where we live, when I see you again the same smile will greet you; the same arms will be prepared to hug you close; the same eyes ready to laugh with you and if necessary cry with you. Because that is friendship.

God bless you

Mx

New feature; Being honest [about faith]

Welcome to the first installment of my new feature, ‘being honest’. This week; faith and belief.

Some people say why do you believe a bunch of fairy tales? Others ask whether Jesus was real at all? Many simply do not care what religion you have.

I am Christian because I recognise that I am flawed and like all of us, despite having the capability to be beautiful in many ways, I am also broken. How?

I make terrible errors of judgement and incredibly stupid decisions that push friends and family away, alienate me or at best severely damage my credibility.

Admittedly most of these appallingly bad decisions were made when I was feeling stressed or exhausted, but that isn’t an excuse. That’s my ‘sapien’, my frailty, my weakness. A weakness that in my view we all share.

I completely accept that I need forgiveness. The three or four worst decisions I have made (there have been many others), that hurt others – as well as myself – are permanently etched, photograph-like, in my mind. And despite this, despite the mental turmoil that followed each of these – in some cases I have gone on to make a very similar mistake again.

So either I have a massive discipline problem, a short memory, or (and I think this is it) I am a self-conscious optimist, whose default position when under pressure is introspective… and this is incredibly unhelpful when you hope to keep those around you happy. And to make matters worse I speak my mind very often without always thinking about the effect on others. Perhaps you can empathise? 

Fundamentally I am in huge trouble and I need help. The healing ‘second chance’ that Christ offers is therefore very appealing. I need to trust in him, because in some ways (not all) I cannot trust myself – nor can I trust that other people close to me will understand. Frequently they don’t, and I don’t necessarily blame them.

One major reason then why I worship in a church is due to this flaw, this human, selfish, stupidity. I feel that I need grace, I need mercy and love – and I can find it here.

The Bible also gives me another explanation: the devil roams ‘like a prowling lion’ and therefore at times I’ll be influenced by ‘him’ and not by good. Thus perhaps evil is not so much inside of us as surrounding us, like poisonous gas… Sometimes we inhale at the wrong time. Christ is the gas mask, the antidote or the pure, clear oxygen of freedom.

And obviously I am not the only one who thinks so.

God bless

The Importance of Imaginings

What happens if we teach children to believe only what they can see, or prove?

Well, they would have no need for imagination. They would decide that it was unimportant. As adults we would begin to chip away at the thing many Victorians mistook for childhood innocence, but was (in my opinion) far more than that.

To imagine is not necessarily to be naive, but this is how modern humanist and scientific thinking is pushing us to believe. Accidental rhyme. So what is imagination?

For me imagination has meant slightly different things throughout my life. Perhaps it’s the same for you. For the most part it has been a delightful combination of dreams, desires, hopes, ideas, movement and images, but most often narratives: Narratives in which the obvious faults of reality can be addressed, even corrected permanently. Narratives in which, as many writers have put it, we can be who we really wish to be. And of course the clear thing about imagination is that it can be rehearsal for a later reality. One thinks of athletes who visualise winning during their training, or before a race. Even if it is rehearsal of a more interesting reality it has a clear effect on those doing the imagining (or on a reader/witness); it stimulates, prompts and entertains the imaginations of others – it is a catalyst for further imaginings. And where could those beautiful imaginings lead? They could lead to answers, inventions, literal light-bulb moments, philosophical or spiritual enlightening…

So what is the ultimate goal of these imaginings? What is the point?

To teach and instruct, to help us visualise an improved reality.

TO HELP US CHANGE THE WORLD FOR THE BETTER.

If we teach children, like Gradgrind, that facts, and nothing but facts are so valuable, as to be the only essential things worth knowing, then eventually our children will begin to think that imagination has no value. And if we succeed in doing that, it is my simply held belief that the world will destroy itself.

For if you have no need for imagination, then you have no cause to hope. If you can only see reality in its purest form, the sheer stupidity, clumsiness, and selfishness of humanity will choke you. It will be the death of hope, and the end of the human race.

Well! We’re full of laughs this evening aren’t we? But seriously, for this reason, I would encourage you to love imagination, and to cherish the imaginings of both children and adults. For each has purpose and each will help to make the world a better place. If only we let them.

Is real, earnest reading almost extinct?

Like you I read a huge range of texts and publications every day. I don’t necessarily read all of said text; I skim occasionally, and that’s ok. Not every written word needs your whole undivided attention.
Then again, I do remember (in my regular church days) the earnest, careful, heartfelt reading of verses from the Bible, and I believe that there is a lot to be said for this.
But over the last few weeks, prompted perhaps by time spent watching the news, on social media, and watching movies with my wife and family, the strong feeling has come to me that not enough people read, and too few of those that do read carefully enough. You know as I do that England (and to an extent the UK) was built on the principles of ancient Christianity as interpreted by Kings and Queens – Alfred arguably being the first, but many powers have followed. Subsequently we have been led largely by Government, and of course in all those key phases of history huge errors of judgement, and tragic disasters have occurred, caused by poor interpretation of religious teaching (the ‘rules’), or by sin; and by sin I mean greed, lust and so on… think Seven (🎥 , one word).
What evidence is there for this lack of guidance: Brexit (what an awful mess), class divide alive and kicking (2019 🤬), huge gap between rich and poor, a mass media that seem intent on leaving out the news we want to hear, and most importantly for me, Nottingham Forest have still not made it back to the Premier League. I jest.
In all seriousness though, I am certain that if we spent as much time reading our ancient texts – and understood our own history better – as a civilisation, but particularly as a country, we would make wiser decisions that would be more in the public interest and less likely to simply make the wealthy richer.
Oh I am an ‘idealist’, I can here the modern cynics smirking into their copies of the Financial Times (btw shares are for the rich because they have time to research them properly)… But I am certain that if we spent as much time reading philosophy and religion properly (without knee-jerk reactions that would make a dressage horse proud), and applying proven principles of good governance to 21st century culture and politics a) we’d be happier and b) we might start to improve our country and our lives without having to rely on a few jumped up billionaires and their clingons.
Ah, but what are ‘principles of good governance’ I hear another cynic shout… Unfortunately he has just proved my point.
As for me and my classes we will read and read again!
Love
Matt

Vision and leadership in education

NPQSL; vision and leadership

‘Reflecting on your beliefs write a short compelling paragraph describing your educational beliefs.’ My response, for what it’s worth (by no means exhaustive)…

I believe that students are the foundation of the future (everyone’s future):

That the challenges of education, around progress, data and staff morale are fundamentally worth fighting for (many marginal gains result in transformation):

That the fundamental principle of caring for others (love) and encouraging each other is central to everything we do:

That no matter how dangerous or ridiculous the outside world appears, what happens inside school cannot be tainted by fear: Positive minds change lives.

Why British politics breaks my heart

Because many politicians completely miss the fact (consciously or otherwise) that we are all connected, that one poor judgement will affect those around us, and that one helping hand affects not only the receiver but all those connected with them. When a disabled boy is dying, those connected to the family rush to help (think Scrooge in ‘A Christmas Carol’), they know they cannot do otherwise as the alternative is darkness and pain.

The principal purpose of a government should to be to prevent the pain of the people and to ensure that all those who need help receive it. The need for charities should reduce, and only those furthest from any kind of monitory aid (of whom there should be few) will still need to be reached.

This government and every one after it will fail unless we recognise that ‘we are one body’ and those who are not suffering have a duty to prevent the suffering of others: one day the tables may be turned and ‘we will reap what we sow’.

If you believe in prayer then pray for this country and its government. If you don’t believe in prayer – pray anyway…

Mahmya (‘Makhmya’)

The island of Mahmya is somewhere that locals take tourists to make money. First and foremost they want you to keep them financially afloat. However, if you can stomach the obvious way in which the trips bring together tourists from all the major hotels there are still gems to be found.

The sand is paler and finer than in most areas of the Red Sea. Sheltered from the off-shore wind the beach has a relaxed feeling about it. The obligatory bar is flanked by a restaurant and very tidy toilets; the food is very good and you will receive a warm welcome.

The real star is the sea. The Red Sea is very salty and so young swimmers find the water more buoyant, while the more experienced may find that they can stay in the water a little longer. The banks of coral show up as dark grey patches beneath the aquamarine of the sea, and fortunately there are still plenty of fish and most of the coral is still growing (although I am not convinced that this will last long; the tourist trade is nothing if not regular and that is bound to have an impact over time).

Archie’s shout of ‘Nemo fish!’ was gleeful (I did correct him), but the variety of fish and seeing them in the environment in which they belong was a privilege to witness. Archie and I returned from our snorkling adventure a little cold and weary but elated.

Having felt cynical on arrival we left the island relaxed and reluctant, watching the Egyptian sunset over the mountains, as we returned first by boat and then by bus to Hurghada.

Love from Egypt.

An Egyptian Diary, part 3

Day 5: Making plans

The giant tent in which the Christmas party was held was very impressive. I took a panoramic video of the interior – splashes of red and a blue water-fountain feature full of different kinds of fruit, high ceilings, and a table arrangement not unlike a large wedding – with the food at the opposite end to the stage.

We sat with a couple from Wigan and their son, Sonny. It was great that Henry and Harriet played with Archie and Ele respectively  – the latter pair spending some time on the dance floor (of course).

It was a shame that the whole family left on Boxing Day – they were good company.

We have settled into a routine of beach/main pool, with the kids splashing about in the kids pool in front of the loungers and one or other of us fetching food/drinks or trying a sport in turn. So far Archie and I have tried football, volleyball and water polo (for the first time today – Boxing Day). I actually scored – which was a pleasant surprise. You have to be a decent swimmer to be a good player though, and I struggled to get back and defend after attacking (not unlike my football game to be honest!). Charlotte has been to the gym and done a couple of the water aerobics classics, and I enjoy a few lengths in the 25 meter pool now and again – between drinking and eating.

We have organised a trip to the island of Mahmya (pronounced ‘MaKHmya’) on Saturday, which I am looking forward to. We will take a boat from the marina and be away for the whole day. We will take all our snorkelling gear and the under-water camera. We contemplated going on another excursion to a Bedouin camp, but it was a little too expensive and Charlotte has done one before in Dubai.

The pool was warm today. It’s a hard life.

From Egypt.

An Egyptian Diary, part 2

Day 4: Christmas Eve

Security is very tight. Several armed guards observed at posts outside the hotel and a checkpoint on the edge of Hurghada. The male staff pay Eleanor a little too much attention at times (we were forewarned about this). However, they work very hard and on the whole have good manners. The pace of things is fairly quick at the hotel – if you’re not organised you will miss things.

The coast is beautiful in its way – palm trees sway in the light wind and the beach is paler than the desert sand with aquamarine sea – often where it’s shallow you can see to the bottom, and there is no sign of debris or waste.

As we relaxed by the main pool a cacophony of sound and a blaze of red streamed out of the entertainers quarters near the gym. They lapped the pool playing horns and shouting to welcome in Christmas and announce their activities – leading up to Santa’s visit at 3pm and a meal this evening in the tent which we have booked.

Sand castle building with Eleanor this afternoon who is mostly great company on her own, and a nightmare when she is with Archie (the same could be said of him however). One of my greatest fears is that they will grow old not liking each other and not getting on, but I am very much aware that this could be a self-fulfilling prophecy; all we can do is treat them fairly and model to them how to behave kindly with each other.

Mid-afternoon and Archie is asleep – the consequence of getting up at 6.00am every day (despite going to bed later than usual) and lots of sun and swimming. An unusual Christmas Eve, but a lovely day so far.