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– Just being

September 10, 2012

‘Education isn’t for being something, education is for enjoying whatever you are.  The only thing you have to be in life is yourself’.

The Corncrake and the Lysander by Finlay J Macdonald

I thought this was a wonderful quote, this idea about being yourself, it sounds so easy and obvious really, but for us, it’s only since we moved away from our own country and culture that either of us feel as if we are becoming ourselves.  It’s hard to distance yourself from influences when you are surrounded on all sides by television, radio, newspapers, conversations in bars and buses.  It all adds up.  Sometimes only in a subconscious way, to influence our actions and how we see ourselves which that in turn, affects what we feel able to do.

And the education thing.  In the past education really was for its own sake – to broaden us out as people, to expose us to a whole new world of theories, thoughts and the achievements and discoveries of different people.  This exposure would show us how we could use our wisdom and abilities in whatever sphere we chose.  That system seemed to be about valuing people for who they were.  And underlying all of it was the knowledge that life itself was the most valuable thing we had, that there really was nothing else.

The more I think about this the more right it seems.  The only thing you have to be is yourself and that surely means being the best version of yourself that you can.

I’ve been reading the Finlay J Macdonald Omnibus and marvelling at the lives of people on the island of Harris in the 1930’s.  Living with just the basics but in a rich natural environment and culture, no running water, electricity, phones or cars, where daily life was composed of tasks necessary to existence.  There was a school and parents urged their children to do well, knowing that the world was changing and thinking that education would be the best preparation for a place in it.  I think they were hoping that their children would have a richer life and be able to take advantage of all the new things the world would have to offer.  But I also think they were hoping that their children would still value their beginnings, their traditional way of living.  That, to my mind would have been the best, although it was sad to think that the parents were preparing for their children to leave the island.  I wonder if it could have been different.  That the lives lived on crofts with sheep and the loom could have continued.

Anyhow, it was about children growing up to become the best version of themselves.  Unlike today where it seems adult aspirations and the education system have buried those fine qualities under rather less poetic plans.  Most young people and their families view education as the first step on the way to finding employment.  Gone are the values of exposing children to the best of others achievements and encouraging them to take their place alongside the great people of the past.  Now it’s all about work and money.  The better the exam results, the better the possibilities of earning big money.

It’s sad isn’t it?  After all, we only have one life and it’s not very long.  When I read about those who lived in the 1930’s and 40’s I can’t help thinking they’d got it more right, the balance, the value of important things like keeping warm, providing their own food and clothing.  No distance between what was needed and how it was provided.

Now things are more clouded.  No one knows what the basics are any more and even less about how to provide them.  It’s like a strange puzzle or maze.  The people in the 30’s had little material comforts and were close to living and surviving.  Now there is so much.  So many things to want that they hide what is necessary and confuse people about the difference between what they want and what they need.

Maybe education really is the key.  That if children aren’t valued for who they are, they start to think that they aren’t anyone.  Society at the moment looks to be full of people who don’t know who they are.  No wonder so many are depressed.

I know this all sounds like someone venting about how great the past was, but it wasn’t my past, it’s not a period of time that I remember so it’s not my personal nostalgia, it just happens that it really does feel that there was a time when things were more right for everyone than they are now.  Even though that life on Harris was a while back now, it was actually composed of the same things that we all still need, however sophisticated some people think they have become.  We all need to eat, sleep and keep warm and dry.  It’s just that some people want to earn a fortune to do it and others just do it for themselves.  Nothing in the world has changed that we don’t need to eat and sleep.

We might have forgotten that but living with cats has made me realise that other creatures haven’t.  They’ve got it all worked out, food, shelter, a cosy place to sleep and each of them with their own personality and character, to which they are true.  Put like that, life doesn’t seem to be that complicated; it’s our mistake to think that it is.   Maybe everyone should get a cat and learn from the masters!

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