Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Love or hate the film, Eric Idle’s rendition at the end of ‘The Life of Brian’ speaks Truth.

A sign from the door of Pope Francis’ Office

It is natural to look for the negatives. We are hard-wired to scan the environment for threats; it’s a matter of survival. However, being counter-intuitive and actively seeking a positive solution has been proven to improve outcomes and wellbeing.

Life will always throw us curve balls. How we respond to them can be the difference between withering and flourishing. We can choose our response in any situation: to moan or be positive.

When it comes to batting curveballs, schools have to be the most adept. Let’s face it; we get them from every angle and every stakeholder. If you can’t cope with things not going as planned, avoid education. However, by choosing (and it is always a choice) to remain hopeful and seek solutions, good things can come from tricky situations.

Princess Poppy

I am not advocating mindless ‘Pollyannaism’ (although this is something I have been playfully labelled – along with Princess Poppy from Trolls). I work hard at being positive – it is not a natural disposition and not always easy. But always worth it. It’s also important to note that neither Pollyanna (if you’ve seen Hayley Mills in the film) or Princess Poppy, are perfect – in fact, they are happy in their imperfection. I’m mentioning this because it is nigh on impossible to be positive and perfect at the same time, but I will have to wait for another chance to blog to explain why.

Let me illustrate how being solution focussed helps you reap more than you sow – you can solve several problems with positive creativity.

Recent funding cuts have led to fewer members of staff, putting a strain on all of us, especially the administration staff, who now man the office alone and can not leave it unattended at lunch. Despite play leaders working hard to engage children in games, an hour’s unstructured lunch break in a square concrete yard is some children’s nightmare. Serving a deprived ward means the lack of social skills compounds the horror (sometimes it is, though) as our children reason with physical and verbal aggression. It’s not their fault – it’s what they know.

Sometimes it’s overwhelming.

Recruit a group of older children to run the office over the lunchtime. Get them off the playground and teach them some valuable communication and social skills by training them to cover the office and phone and increase their sense of responsibility as a result.

Last week I spent an afternoon training a group of ten years five and six children to do just that. What an eye-opener! Our children are tough, but not always strong. They found speaking in a formal tone visibly uncomfortable – I’ve never seen children cringe and hesitate so much! It was so new to them that I had to plan in an additional afternoon’s training. We can underestimate how alien some everyday situations are for people outside of that culture, and it reminded me of my childhood.

Permit me to take a slight detour. As a child, my grandad insisted that I had a Catholic education and as a result, I did not attend the same school as the people I grew up with. At school, I mixed with children outside of my social sphere. Sometimes it was painful. I learned about judgement and preconceived notions about children, like myself, who took free school meals and came from the rough end of town.

Luckily, this meant nothing to my best friend Mandy, whom I considered quite posh. Ironically, I had equally discriminating thoughts about her: think groomed pony-tail, sensible shoes and ballet lessons. Anyway, Mandy’s mum did not like me very much. She thought I was rude; a bad influence on her Mandy because of how I spoke and where I came from. I’ll explain further.

We did not have a phone line to our flat and had to rely on a phone box several streets away. Mandy and I would arrange to call each other at a specific time, and I would either wait outside the phone box for it to ring, or call her using any 2ps I could find. Not having a phone meant I didn’t know how to use one. I mean, I knew which bit to listen at and which bit to talk into, but had no idea that the socially acceptable way of making a phone call was to follow a script of pleasantries. Instead, as soon as Mandy’s mum answered, I would blurt,” Mandy there?”

No ‘Hello’. No ‘How are you?’

I understand how rude I must have seemed, but it was not rudeness – it was ignorance that was no fault of my own. I couldn’t comprehend her disapproval of me; it all made me feel a bit crap.

Fast forward forty years and I am determined that the children in our school do not suffer a similar embarrassment. The teaching of social skills needs to be part of the curriculum, particularly for schools in deprived wards.

Let’s return to the office trainees...
During their training – which involves answering our school phone – I saw them grow before my eyes. Their breathing slowed and became more confident; they unfolded, straightened their shoulders and held their chins a little higher. They blossomed. More joyful and happier. Almost immediately.
Such a little thing and such a big thing.

If you are familiar with Daniel H Pink’s ‘Drive’, you will know that this office training tapped into intrinsic truths about motivation where autonomy, mastery and purpose are essential. If you are Catholic, you will recognise how dignifying people by helping them find meaning and responsibility is a sacred view of the person as made in the image and likeness of God. When we work with the Truth, instead of against it, beautiful things can happen.

And being positive is Godly.

Heed Pope Francis’ sign (see above) and listen to St Paul (2 Corinthians 9:6-11):

Remember this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will reap bountifully. Each one of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance so that by always having enough of everything, you share abundantly in every good work.

God loves a cheerful giver. Children are not plants, but they ‘grew’ following their training. The pressure on the lunchtime playground has been relieved, and the office staff can grab a break. When it gets dark, mimic plants and lean towards the light. Seek a solution with a cheerful, positive heart. There is always a way.

Follow the day and reach for the sun.

A slightly nuts Polyphonic Spree – Follow the Day and Reach for the Sun

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