Monday, 1 October 2018

Why we need Informality in Education

For 34 of my 43 years in teaching I have been referred to as ‘Andrew’ by students and fellow teachers. Andrew is my name – others called me ‘Andy’ when I was at college, but that has never stuck. I have always had difficulty seeing myself as an ‘Andy’, the name holds connotations of one who likes to go out with his mates, have a good time, and be the life and soul of the party – I’m afraid that is not and never has been part of my character, believe me I have tried!

‘How can the children possibly respect you if they call you by your first name?’, my mother was aghast when she heard that I had found a job at a school in which informality of relationship was deemed as integral to its ethos.

‘How can there be discipline when the children can wear what they like?’ She added, as all the formality of her own background and way of life came rushing to the surface like a flood of disbelief. My mother thus encapsulated the authoritarian outlook that has dominated schools for many, many years.

Recently, I read about a mainstream state secondary school that on the first day of the school year made nearly 200 students sit in silence in the school hall for about 2 hours for ‘uniform infringement’.

The school’s stated uniform policy is this –

‘We believe that correct uniform is very important in encouraging self-respect, pride in the school and a sense of community. It’s also an excellent indicator of a student’s attitude, state of mind and readiness for work.’

Bohunt School, Liphook, Hants

An informal ethos in educational establishments questions assumptions about regimenting children, systems of punishment and reward, and allows for relationships to blossom. Undoubtedly, teaching in an informal situation is very challenging – there is no hiding place, no status to cling to, little in the way of a formally designed sense of hierarchy, and there is an obligation to respond to questioning of authority by giving attention to the question itself, and listening to the student.

I have had the very good fortune of teaching in 3 schools* in which informality forms the ground upon which learning takes place. The level of informality has differed in each place, but the school in which I am now working, and have had significant involvement in over the last 40 years or so is probably the most informal.

It is a residential international education centre for around 75 students aged from 14 to 19. Staff and students live together, sharing many of the day to day tasks of taking care of the place and each other. The community exists to learn about what living is – not what someone’s idea of what life is, but to find out what it means to inquire into life with an open mind. This cannot effectively take place in an authoritarian atmosphere; it cannot exist in the systems that exist in most schools. However, this sense of informality does require consideration of others, a willingness to withhold judgement and an acknowledgement that mistakes are made. For learning to be effective there must be affection, which implies a lack of coercion and a willingness to listen.

Formality implies control; the formal gardens that became fashionable in stately homes of the 18th Century are testament to the obsession in taming the wild. And that obsession was also translated to the treatment of children. Formality is mechanical, requiring pre-determined responses and ensuring outcomes that have also been prescribed. Consequently, formality limits freedom, limits spontaneity and denies humanity. Formality forms the basis in the language of fear.
The current approach to education is all about a faceless, standardised production line from which some children will emerge as successful achievers and many others will be spat out as failures, losers. This lugubrious machine hoovers up money as the segregated masses are processed, but the residual fallout of individuals through this system is requiring even more funding.

Learning is the lifeblood of being human; there is no price; there are no limits and learning cannot be formalised.

My mother did change her attitude to the schools in which I taught, even supporting our youngest son in his final year at the school at which I now work. Sadly, the formality of her own upbringing could not leave her. She died after 2 years at a care home where she was seen as a cantankerous, self-important, superior nuisance; until she succumbed to dementia and softened slowly into a self-imposed death – no longer eating or drinking.

*St. Christopher School, Letchworth; Bedales School, Hants; Brockwood Park School, Hants.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Young Children: A Generation at Risk? (Embryonic Memoir)

 If you watch a young child closely you can often quite quickly get a feeling for what that child is like. From the way he or she moves, talks and interacts with the surroundings you can get some essence of the character of the child; particularly if you are impersonal in your observation, you can begin to understand the child. Generally a young child is open, friendly and interested in the world that surrounds her or him. However, we are rapidly approaching a point where these aspects of early childhood are seen as irrelevancies in a world which is quickly degenerating into a place where only the measurable has significance.

 I am reminded of something that Dorothy Rowe has written in her book ‘Guide to Life’:

‘As small children we are interested in everything and are infinitely talented. However, our education destroys our curiosity and we are taught that we are not the artists, musicians, writers, singers, scientists and inventors we had once thought.’

In much of the teachings of Krishnamurti it is put forward that inner freedom is essential for humanity. With young children you see the expression of this in their urge to explore, to find out, a kind of free play with their environment. Surely it is the task of education to ensure that this exploration does not result in a domination of the individual by his or her surroundings, nor by those people with whom contact is made, although neither should it result in the individual being dominant. It is of the utmost importance that education maintains the integrity of the individual, whilst seeking to avoid the setting up of one individual against another.

Children are losing their physical freedom for a variety of reasons. The predominance of car usage is having far reaching effects. Roads are becoming increasingly more dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists. Fewer children walk reasonable distances, thus they become less physically fit and view life through an isolated, sound-proofed bubble, having no contact with the sights, sounds and smells of those things they pass. Open areas are being closed off; a poignant personal illustration of this is the place where I used to play as a boy, walking through woods and over fields to the sea, is now a theme park providing expensive entertainment ‘for all the family’.

A further element in the loss of physical freedom has been an insidious fear that has entered the minds of many parents, fuelled by the immense media coverage that inevitably surrounds the violation of children. Thus, thoughtful protection is replaced by constricting supervision, sometimes resulting almost in a form of imprisonment of children for their own safety. Watching young children play outside you are convinced of their need for space to run, jump and explore. Similarly children need inner space to play with ideas, to understand their own thinking and to go beyond their own demands.

As we are destroying their physical freedom, so we are also threatening the inner freedom of the young. In their anxiety over their own security parents transfer their hopes and aspirations onto their children. These parents want to ensure that their children come out on top of the heap by passing all their exams and getting good, well-paid jobs. Unfortunately, this thinking is becoming more and more ascendant as the politicians take increasingly greater control of education and see that these attitudes might win them votes. Under the guise of ‘improving standards’ children as young as five are being tested and these results are being converted into league tables for schools, thereby investing these tests with value considerably more than their worth, that is if they have any worth anyway. This enhances the spirit of competition, pitting school against school, pupil against pupil, creating the feeling that educating the young is a team game complete with winners and losers.

Krishnamurti’s words from Education and the Significance of Life have a particular resonance as we move into a world of education where the watchwords are inspection, monitoring and assessment, where teachers and administrators are forced to defend their livelihoods:

 ‘When there is love of the child, all things are possible. As long as the institution is the most important consideration, the child is not.’

The corruption of the politicians is complete as they mass behind the rallying cries of parental choice and parent power, steadily destroying the integrity of educators. We watch silently as the effects of parental expectations blight yet another generation. Anyone who is a parent and is able to view the experience with some sense of detachment is aware of all the possibilities in the process of bringing up children, and the immense dangers involved.

So what are we to do? Do we continue to send our young children to creches, child-minders, nursery schools, where they often move from having individual attention to being lost in the mass? Do we continue to work long hours so that the only time we spend with our children we call ‘quality time’? And finally, are we ultimately concerned to make all children the same, conforming to arbitrary norms? The beauty of the majority of young children is in their integrity and unselfconscious differences. This beauty can be seen to fade as they become more aware of themselves and begin to compare themselves to those around them, so their differences are hidden, and they seek to be the same as those they admire or fear.

We want to control our young children far beyond pointing out the dangers and delights that life has to offer; we want to clothe them in our own well-meaning, so that they, like us, live second-hand lives. Krishnamurti used the expression ‘flowering’ as a description of the process of growing up. If we strip away the cloying sentimentality that so often stifles young children and watch them as they are, seeking to understand them as individuals, then this ‘flowering’ process is sustained by a dynamic new relationship with the child, and all are enriched by the unfolding of this new life.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Embryonic Memoir

I began this blog six years ago. Since then it would appear that the disintegration of the world has accelerated and we have come to a global situation of considerable danger to humanity. Nevertheless, there are many good people around and many encouraging projects being undertaken. It is just that we seem to be drowning in a sea of greed, hatred, self-gratification and stupidity. And yet wherever we go we continue to experience everyday kindness – there is an underlying compassion in humanity.

I am currently writing a memoir through which I am exploring a life, my life. It is not a life that is particularly exceptional. However, it is a life that has been lived in education, in learning. The way we bring up our children dictates the future of human society. The basis of our child-rearing in the modern world is to herd them together at a young age, dress them all the same, tell them how to behave, tell them what they should know, tell them what is good and what is bad, and what they should be aiming for in life. We do not ask them to inquire into life itself.

Therefore, I am using this writing to attempt to engage the reader in an exploration into their own thinking; and to move beyond my own petty life to touch on something more universal.
Below is an extract from near the beginning:

I was embarking on, or to put it more accurately, was being placed on a pathway designed for the ruling classes, at whatever level of ruling that might be. This pathway might well be called the destiny of deprived privilege. The Great British Public School System was created in the 1860s to supply the British Empire with manpower, the sons of officers and senior administrators educated as successors to take their rightful places in distant lands. To bestow their superiority in the name of civilisation; and to be distinct from the lesser mortals, whose bodies populated the killing machines in the colonies – disposable bodies. A way of educating was evolved that ensured a mindset of superiority combined with an unwavering belief in the power of the Empire, and the ability to put up with extraordinary discomfort, physical, mental and emotional. Now, after two world wars, the British Empire was in its final death throes, fatally wounded and dangerous, but it would live on in the cold climate of my schooling.

And here is a piece that illustrates a significant aspect of my attempt to break with the effect of my schooling:

At nineteen I found myself sitting on a bench on a cloudy September day waiting for a bus to India.
It was fashionable at that time for young people to take the overland trail from West to East to find themselves. The perceived spirituality of India had been exported wholesale to the West since the early 1960s; the Beatles with their exotically long-haired, bearded, robed guru, filmed at the colourful ashram on the edge of the milky blue holy Ganges against the backdrop of the mystic Himalayan mountains had fairy-tale qualities. I had no doubt been influenced myself. Influenced by the assimilation of the sounds of the music of the East that had emerged in the 1960s and the words that had been culled from the ancient Hindu texts. Recently I had made a foray into Buddhism and through that had come across the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti, who constantly reiterated that he was not a guru. Through friends I had also come across one or two poems written by Rabindranath Tagore, half-remembered for their simplicity of observation moving effortlessly from the particular to the universal. Through both their work I had been touched by the expression of harmony with nature through which lens the world of humanity could be seen and understood. Nevertheless, however much I enjoyed and admired the stories of the wise and enlightened people of the East, I had no wish or desire to seek enlightenment for myself.

Neither of these extracts are fully finished. I am currently under the mentorship of the writer Paul Kingsnorth, and am working towards a first draft.

My intention is that the writing will progress from here through to my teaching experience, which is woven in with my continuing and changing relationship with India and the many influences in my life. How it will end? I am not quite sure. Maybe it will be with that which calls a stop to all that we do!

This is one way I feel I can respond to the state of the world. Although I continue to look for further possibilities. However, it seems to me that despite all the technological connections, the vast mounds of ideas, words and opinions, it is how we relate in our daily lives that still has the deepest significance.

Monday, 30 October 2017

The Gathering Storm

“You can … be assured that our administration is committed to strengthen and modernise America’s nuclear deterrent,” Mike Pence, the vice-president, said on Friday on a morale-boosting visit to Minot air force base in North Dakota, home to Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles and B-52 strategic bombers.  “History attests the surest path to peace is through American strength. There’s no greater element of American strength, there’s no greater force for peace in the world than the United States nuclear arsenal.”  the October 29th 2017

For a short time, when I was nine, nuclear war became a distinct possibility. I remember cowering under the forbidding wooden and iron desks in the schoolroom of the boys’ boarding school to which I had been sent as an ongoing educational exercise in cruelty and the privilege of deprivation.

“The Russians are going to attack America from their nuclear bases in Cuba,” the older boys were saying.

“And they will bomb us as well!” added other boys, a mixture of fear and excitement in their voices.

From a small seaside town into which the cold Baltic wind swept in arctic breaths that would numb and paralyse, the thought of what might be happening on an unknown island, thousands of miles away, was conjuring a terrified lifelessness in us all; for us the world was ending.

Again, there are people who have attained positions of power in the world that see nuclear weapons as a legitimate show of force, want to create stockpiles of destruction, and are prepared, indeed willing, to use them. The last two world wars were preceded by certain countries stockpiling weapons in a deadly, nationalistic fuelled race to become the dominant world power; today we have the potential for global destruction in the hands of those individuals who possess that heady and volatile mixture of ignorance and arrogance…

‘there’s no greater force for peace in the world than the United States nuclear arsenal.’ 

In Africa, Asia and America devastating floods are causing havoc to all life. Ice caps are melting, and deserts are growing. The extinction of species is accelerating at an unprecedented rate. Human population is growing exponentially. Those of us who have been alive for a while can see it every day: more cars, more planes, more high-rise blocks, more of everything; inevitably, more competition, and the world is continuing to fragment at an alarming rate in almost every aspect of human existence. Life has become incredibly complicated and extraordinarily dangerous in ways that are difficult to imagine.

‘The object of education is to give man the unity of truth. Formerly, when life was simple, all the different elements of man were in complete harmony. But when there came the separation of the intellect from the spiritual and the physical, the school education put entire emphasis on the intellect and physical side of man. We devote our sole attention to giving children information, not knowing by this emphasis we are accentuating a break between the intellectual, the physical and the spiritual life.’        Rabindranath Tagore: ‘My School’, 1901.

Harmony and balance….where are they in modern life?

‘A toxic ideology rules the world – of extreme competition and individualism. It misrepresents human nature, destroying hope and common purpose.’ George Monbiot: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis, 5th Sept. 2017.

Equilibrium, balance, is the basis of a healthy individual, community and society. Conflict is essentially destructive: the threat of nuclear war as a real possibility is highly disturbing, bringing a deep fear of existence into every home; and, looking out on the rain, the clouds, or blue sky, the questions arise, ‘Why are we prepared to destroy all this? What is the purpose of this man-made destruction?’ Many children, with all their lives ahead of them, wonder: ‘What is life about?’.  This questioning intensifies with the viewing of destruction caused by the latest hurricanes in the Caribbean, the plight of the refugees from Myanmar, and the daily pronouncements of politicians all over the world.

I am reminded of my conversation with the Buddhist monk, Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, that took place earlier this year in Chennai, India. And I quote from a previous blog:

‘Towards the end of our conversation we observed that humanity was on an almost irretrievable course towards disaster; that, even if it was not to be precipitated by human behaviour, it might equally come about through some natural phenomena. This, he felt, had the possibility of bringing about some sense of realisation or understanding of the effects of self-centred or egotistical activity. The global economic system as it is currently, underpinned by violence and greed, with the existence of rapid environmental degradation, widening inequality between the poor and the rich, and increasing religious intolerance is destroying any semblance of balance or harmony in the world - negating the values and ethics that might give some avenue to ensuring the survival of the human race.’

There is a tide of revolution that is swirling round the world, demonstrating the courage, compassion and sensitivity of which humanity is capable. Against this tide runs a global wave of aggression, greed and hatred. At some point the wave will disappear into the endless motion of the ocean; but by then, what damage will have been done? 

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Partition: 70 years of sorrow and the consequences of division

Forty-six years ago I crossed the Pakistan – India border. On both sides there were tangible signs of the forthcoming war between these two countries. Under the warm December sky, against the backdrop of the people going about their everyday business, soldiers were on the move by the truckload; tanks crept along the narrow highway, jeeps mounted with machine guns weaved between them – they meant business. After all, that is what the military is for; we keep them well- resourced so that they can go about their business and their business is killing. I was the nineteen year old product of a system of deprived privilege; a system that had been developed over a period of one hundred years to ostensibly educate the ruling class to operate both at home and in the colonies; a system that enabled the domination of vast numbers of people by a relatively small number of men.

It is now seventy years since the creation of the state of Pakistan in the extraordinary act of partitioning the sub-continent by religion. In the British media there has been significant coverage of this event, mostly through the stories of individuals who survived the mass slaughter brought about by the polarisation of communities through religion, and the consequent movement of vast numbers of people. Many of these people had subsequently made their homes in Britain, and were still haunted by what they had seen and experienced. It is not beyond the edges of imagination to see significant similarities with this and what is happening in the Middle East, conflict, misery and suffering arising out of human arrogance, stupidity and cruelty.

Travelling in an old coach that I had boarded on the edge of Clapham Common in London, we passed through Lahore, the old capital city of the Punjab, over the border to the Sikh holy city of Amritsar, a road that had been awash with blood not so many years before; now the machines of violence were driving over the ghosts of women, children and men with the expressed purpose of wreaking more havoc and misery in the name of one of the most pernicious of ideas we so love to cling to – nationalism. On the way to Pakistan, amongst many other countries, we had passed through Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Kashmir; entering Pakistan by way of the magnificent Khyber Pass. In those days it was the well-worn path of many a young Western traveller, fired with a sense of exploration and the wish to find something different. These countries were, to our eyes, whole, containing vast peaceful lakes, snow-capped mountains, clear seas and dark-green jungles; animals and birds beyond description, and people, whose many smiles would shake the dullness of a culture determined that the only way to live was to be materially successful. So many of the buildings and monuments incorporated extraordinary craft and skill; the timeless devotion of their nameless, forgotten builders – memorials to a world beyond the self- enclosure of the individual. In the ensuing forty-six years, how things have changed!

It has been said that the savagery brought about by Partition was without comparison in the history of Asia in its ferocity and long-term effect. Despite the fact it may be thought that the realisation of this might bring some semblance of sanity, Pakistan and India remain deeply entrenched in their inability to forge a peaceful relationship. The war in 1971 was one of the shortest wars in history, lasting thirteen days, and saw the creation of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh from what was established as East Pakistan. In the early 2000s, Maggie, my wife, and I were in India during a particularly tense phase, many people we talked to were openly fearful of war between these two nations, who by then were both in possession of nuclear weapons. At present there appears to be little or no positive relationship between them: any public communication being confined solely to words of aggression.

In fact, disintegration, insensitivity to others and hatred are occurring on a global level fuelled by fear, greed and the deep insecurity brought essentially by the knowledge of the limitations the planet faces. The division of the many by the extremes of the few appears to be taking hold in the U.S, the U.K, India and many other areas of the world. Recently, some politicians have spoken of the use of nuclear weapons in terms of possibility or even probability; open hostilities have broken out between people who refuse to go any way towards respecting each other; it appears that hatred has been made acceptable, in the same way greed has. We are all in serious trouble.

The lessons of the past are clearly laid out before us, but many of us do not understand the past, or we only have a partial view which severely distorts our actions in the present. Often this distortion is used to further the aims of particular groups in order to support their specific ideologies, whatever the consequence. The present contains both the past and the future, in acting intelligently one has to have some awareness of where this action is coming from: that is the conditioning of the individual. We are imprisoned by our own backgrounds, and in order to be able to act intelligently and creatively it is from our backgrounds that we must free ourselves.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

'I don't Like the Learning!'

What is education? It is essentially the art of learning, not only from books, but from the whole movement of life.’ J Krishnamurti

Recently, when we were taking care of our two grandsons, the five year old decided to complain loudly about the fact he had to go to school. My wife, Maggie, asked him:

“What’s the matter with school? Why don’t you want to go?”

Through tears of protestation he said, “I don’t like the learning.”

Here is a boy who is fascinated by almost everything. He can spend hours with Lego; putting it together, taking it apart, and constructing imaginary games with figures of all descriptions. During the time that we were helping to look after our grandsons the weather was hot and the nights were such that air barely seemed to move so Maggie bought a pedestal electric fan, boxed and ready to put together; on his return from school this little boy was immediately fascinated by what the box contained. He persuaded her to unpack it then and there, and together they began to work out how to put it together; he excitedly provided solutions to the construction and actively worked together with his grandmother. He had never seen one of these fans before, so he was not employing memory…

‘I don’t like the learning.’!

Schools, as they are now, are dead and their lifeless forms are mouldering tumours in the belly of global society, filled with the shiny cancerous cells of modern life: competition, coercion, and conformity; creating a stratified, divided, contemptuous world, where the ultimate value is purely economic.

In the conclusion to her new edition of ‘Alternative Approaches to Education’, Fiona Carnie writes,

‘They [alternative schools and learning communities] are based on the values of a healthy society – of democracy, community, fairness, trust, tolerance, openness and support. Children who have experienced these values in an active way as an integral part of their education are more likely to reflect them in their own lives and work. Now more than ever we are aware of the need to create a world which is based on such values… schooling has to be more than a means of training children to contribute to economic growth regardless of the social and environmental costs.’.

So, what happens now?  I would like to suggest that instead of looking at what might replace schools, we investigate learning: our assumptions about learning, how learning is organised and what learning really is. In a blog written by the psychologist, Peter Gray, he states that:

Throughout essentially all of human history, children educated themselves by exploring, playing, watching and listening to others, and figuring out and pursuing their own goals in life.’

Adding that:

‘Coercive schooling has been a blip in human history, designed to serve temporary ends that arose with industrialization and the need to suppress creativity and free will.  Coercive schooling is in the process now of burning itself out, in a kind of final flaring up.’.

‘Coercive schooling’ reflects the dominant authoritarian view of life, that learning is the delivering and assimilation of a body of required knowledge in which the child will be tested/examined to ensure that a certain standard is reached. The roles of the teacher and the taught are clearly drawn up into one who knows and one who doesn’t, ensuring the continuation of division in human society.

‘As an educator you have no status; you are a human being with all the problems of life, like a student. The moment you speak from status, you are actually destroying human relationship.’ J Krishnamurti

Imperialism, nationalism, age related superiority, gender related superiority, race related superiority and species related superiority, reside deeply in the consciousness of the modern mind; to a great extent the organisation of learning continues to serve these world views and the vast machinery of education either overtly or inadvertently crystallises certain attitudes in its ‘learners’ (a term that appears to have replaced children or students). A central aspect of this approach is that learning is always towards an end, which begins at a certain pre-ordained point and then progresses incrementally towards an agreed conclusion – a body of knowledge consigned to memory; whoever is the learner in this process plays a passive, receiving role.

‘If you observe the world about you, you see how insane it all is: mothers sending their sons to war to kill or be killed; the divisions of religion and governments with their conflict and their corruption; the talk of peace while preparing for war; the endless breaking-up of human beings into categories, temperaments, with their gurus and analysts. This insanity has its own activity, which is contradictory. Imitative and divisive. Education as it is now exists to conform to the pattern of insanity.’ J Krishnamurti

When we collect our grandson from school, he runs and dances all the way to his house, delighting in the physical freedom, flinging his arms and legs in all directions as if he had just escaped from a straightjacket. He knows how to learn, he has interests he is developing on his own; he listens, most of the time; and he observes and asks questions. It is not that he wants to learn; it is that learning is in his very make up as human being. The other side of the coin from the adult point of view, is that I have had times as a teacher when I have felt frustrated and confined in the classroom through the tedium of my own lesson; restricted by the expectation to perform in an area which for me held little interest.

The ground from which all learning rises is the individual, the person through whom all perception of reality flows, therefore learning about life is inseparable from learning about oneself and this learning has no conclusion. Our propensity to separate our learning into ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ severely limits our understanding of both the inner and outer world; relying all too often on the judgement of others. And learning about oneself is not a self-absorbing process as it is based upon the listening and observation that connects outer with the inner; freedom to breathe the pure air.

‘I don’t like the learning.’!

  Quotations from:
The Whole Movement of Life is Learning: J Krishnamurti; Krishnamurti Foundation Trust 2006

Alternative Approaches to Learning: Fiona Carnie; Second Edition; Routledge; 2017

Differences Between Self-Directed and Progressive Education: Peter Gray; Psychology Today(online); 2017


Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Western Democracy - what next?

We know what’s coming……as when you are walking along the narrow country lane and you hear the unmissable sound of a gargantuan four-wheel drive motoring along at a speed that is totally inappropriate to the conditions, and it’s coming towards you but the steep banks afford no hand or toe hold.

‘I must confess at once that I do not see any solution to the intricate evils of disharmonious relationship between nations, nor can I point out any path which may lead us immediately to the levels of sanity. Like yourself, I find much that is deeply distressing in modern conditions, I am in complete agreement with you again in believing that at no other period of history has mankind, as a whole, been more alive to the need of human cooperation, more conscious of the inevitable and inescapable moral links which hold together the fabric of human civilisation. I cannot afford to lose my faith in this inner spirit of Man, nor in the sureness of human progress which following the upward path of struggle and travail is constantly achieving, through cyclic darkness and doubt, its ever-widening ranges of fulfilment.’   Rabindranath Tagore -  letter to Gilbert Murray, 16th September 1934.

The 1930s: a time of global danger, demonization of certain races, increasing militarisation and nationalism. 2017: a time of global danger, demonization of certain races and religions, authoritarian nationalism, leaders who want to increase the number of nuclear arms and would consider their deployment, rapid climate change and environmental degradation.

‘The whole world waits to see what this great Eastern nation [Japan] is going to do with the opportunities and responsibilities she has accepted from the hands of modern time. If a mere reproduction of the West, then the great expectation she has raised will remain unfulfilled. For there are grave questions that Western civilisation has put before the world but not completely answered. The conflict between the individual and the state, labour and capital, man and woman; the conflict between the greed of material gain and the spiritual life of man, the organised selfishness of nations and the higher ideals of humanity; the conflict between all the ugly complexities inseparable from giant organisations of commerce and state and the natural instincts of man crying for simplicity and beauty and fulness of leisure – all these have to be brought to a harmony not yet dreamt of…’
Rabindranath Tagore ‘Nationalism in Japan’ 1917

Here in the UK we are being cynically exploited by the forces of ‘greed’, ‘organised selfishness’ and ‘all the ugly complexities…’ as we reel away from a referendum dominated by lies and the language of division, only to be met with an election that is dominated by misinformation, deception and arrogance. Western democracy has lurched into a form of personality authoritarian culture that truly echoes the state of Europe between the wars; I do not consider myself to be any more intelligent than the vast majority of my fellow humans, but I look, listen and read with increasing incredulity. I am finding that my jaw is beginning to ache with its reaction to what comes out of politicians’ mouths.

‘But politics is not a mere abstraction, it has its personality and it does intrude into my life where I am human. It kills and maims individuals, it tells lies, it uses its sacred sword of justice for the purpose of massacre, it spreads misery broadcast over centuries of exploitation, and I cannot say to myself, ‘Poet you have nothing to do with these facts, for they belong to politics.’ This politics assumes its fullest diabolical aspect when I find all its hideous acts of injustice find moral support from a whole nation only because it wants to enjoy in comfort and safety the golden fruits reaped from the abject degradation of human races.’ Rabindranath Tagore to William Rothenstein 1920

Fundamentally, it is what drives us as individuals, our basic motivation, that dictates the trajectory of our lives and creates the environment within which we live. And, generally, we adopt ideas and world views that reflect the way we live, being defensive and rigid in our justification of this way of life. For if we were to question our own lives then we threaten our fragile psychological existence – what we think makes up ourselves. To question yourself requires courage, honesty and care; it is easy to question others. To what extent are we able to think for ourselves? Or do we really need leaders to tell us what to do; who know best?

‘So, our brain, which is the centre of our consciousness, with all the nervous responses, sensory responses, the centre of all our knowledge, all our experience, all our memory (your memory may be from another, but it is still memory; you may be highly educated, the other may have no education at all, may not even know how to read and write, but it is still part of the whole) - so your consciousness is shared by every human being on this earth. Therefore you are entire humanity. Do you understand, sirs? You are in actuality, not theoretically or theologically, or in the eyes of God - probably gods have no eyes! - but in actuality there is this strange irrevocable fact that we all go through the same mould, the same anxiety, hope, fear, death, loneliness that brings such desperation. So we are mankind. And when one realizes that deeply, conflict with another ceases because you are like me.’ Jiddu Krishnamurti Talks at Saanen 1985

In times of danger we human beings tend to take up our defence in what we know, or what we think we know. We retreat into the safety of and comfort of the familiar. But the sound of the vehicle approaching is getting nearer; the machine is accelerating fast as the driver feels the power of the engine. What are you going to do? What am I going to do?