Sunday, 6 November 2011

Carriers of Wonderment

Arboretum 6th November 2011
In a recent blog, attention was drawn to the new President of Ireland, who commented on his primary school teacher, William Clune, saying that he saw every child who came into his class as a "carrier of wonderment". I haven't been able to get this wonderful phrase out of my mind, and it set me thinking.

A friend of mine has taken a break from work, and is spending a few months travelling in America. A few days ago, they sent me an email saying that they were in the State of Wyoming. Sad people like me, with a great fondness for old Western films will remember that many of them were shot in Wyoming - not at all relevant to my story, but it gives another insight into my character. My friend, on viewing the scale and beauty of the area in which they were staying, said that it was awesome. They were full of wonder.

In a similar vein, but much closer to home, a young lady approached me as I sat on my favourite seat in the Nottingham Arboretum. She asked could she sit down and talk to me. Now I've mentioned before the usual people who sit down next to me, who are a mixed bunch. A young lady was something new, so of course I said yes. She was from Korea, and was spending a year in Nottingham doing a Masters degree in journalism at Nottingham Trent University. All she wanted was to share her evident excitement for Nottingham. She was thrilled with the houses, the space and the parks. In her home city she said, everyone was crammed together, living in high rise blocks, with very little space. She was awestruck by the comparison, and then she was off to continue her jog - full of wonder.

Viewing nature with a sense of wonderment is one thing, but seeing people as carriers of wonderment is totally different. This is about viewing people in a positive light; it's about seeing potential, and not negativity. It is sometimes the difference between people succeeding or not. William Clune was an example of someone who believed that every child was capable of achieving something positive in life. The world would be a much better place if there were more people that showed the same attitude. I think that it's worth exploring what we mean by this.

While the phrase, "carrier of wonderment" is new to me, the idea behind it is not. It can be used to describe our view of children ,young people and adults. Unfortunately, far too many people view others as a problem; they see people through the eyes of fear, or disgust; such people to them are an 'underclass', and something should be done to "protect decent people". Little wonder that people turn out feeling alienated from society, with no hope or aspiration.

My view is not pie-eyed, but has been forged in the furnace of over thirty years working with those who have been looked down upon in Belfast and Hastings. My experience has not been with children, but with those generally over the age of eighteen, who were the products of failed families, school and care system. Seeing anyone, whatever their age, as a "carrier of wonderment" is the same to me as getting people to believe in what they can do, rather than in what they can't do.

There's the apocryphal story of the young man who grew up thinking that his name was No, as all he ever heard was, "NO, don't do that". Let me give you two examples of people who turned from believing that there was nothing that they could do, to seeing what they could do. I'm not using these examples as an act of self-aggrandisement, but to show that philosophical principles are best explained with practical examples.

There was a couple of young men in Belfast who belonged to the youth wing of a paramilitary group. Let me digress slightly by saying that I used to get into a bit of bother from time to time with paramilitary groups from both sides, because of encouraging young men in particular to see that there was more to life for them than violence and murder. In exploring options with these young men - and it took some time, as they didn't initially believe that there were any options, it finally transpired that they thought they'd like to do sandwich making, and deliver to local shops, offices and homes. This was a start; they were thinking in positive terms. To cut a long story short, I arranged for a grant to cover their start-up costs, including equipment, and allowed them to use one of our project rooms, rent free for a year. They didn't earn a fortune, but it was more than they received on benefits, and they worked really hard. You could not put a price on the increased sense of self-worth. All this because someone saw in them a "carrier of wonderment". Or to put it another way; allowing people to see what they can do, can bring huge rewards.

When I went to work in Hastings, I found the place full of angry and disillusioned men and women. Just as in Belfast, they spent a lifetime being told what they couldn't do, and the message they received was that they were good for nothing. They were seen as "low-life" and "layabouts" - these were quotations from the local press, and comments from the local community. To clients, nobody seemed to bother or care about them. But my project did. When you have a 'can-do' philosophy, you can expect to see changes, even in the most hardened of individuals. Though so many people were really poor at reading and writing, we decided that we'd have a poetry competition, for people to express what they felt within themselves. Everyone was encouraged to take part, and those who couldn't write, were encouraged to get staff or volunteers to help them. The results were remarkable, and we published them in a book. The spelling and grammar was atrocious, and was an example of a failed educational system, that was supposed to prepare people for life. The raw material though was something special, and most of the people were really proud of what they had achieved. This may not seem like much to some, but it was a small step forward (actually, for a few it was a massive step forward). They did something that they didn't know they had in them, and it was wonderment. In the end they proved to be 'carriers of wonderment'.

Some may think that is this another case of Evans hyperbole, but if you can see potential in every child, why can't you see it in every adult? I know the way that I'd prefer to live.

"Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don't know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!
Anne Frank

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