Visitor from Space!
Recently, my wife Jane and I were in Wales, as we had been asked to conduct a day’s values education training for the staff of Cwmffrwdoer Primary School just outside Pontypool. The school is set in a beautiful mountain environment. On arrival we were so conscious that we were in a school that was already values-driven. It’s Headteacher, Sarah Truelove and her leadership team had heard me speak at a Compass for Life training session - https://compassforlife.co.uk/ .
She reflected on what I had been sharing about ethos, culture, values and contacted me to invite Jane and I to a staff training day, to widen and deepen the school’s understanding and practices in Values-based Education (VbE) - https://valuesbasededucation.com .
Before the session stated the school’s Deputy asked me, “Would you like a Welsh cake”, not realising that this question would trigger poignant memories of my childhood. My Mum lived in the Rhonda Valley in Wales; she and her sister, Aunty Eve, cooked Welsh cakes in the traditional way on a gridle. They were truly delicious. The offered Welsh cake reminded me reminded me of a cultural heritage which had been so embraced by my mother’s family: care for others, resilience in the face of challenge and a deep relational interest in others. The training began and we had the most wonderful time sharing with an open-hearted group of staff.
May I fast forward to two days later – the weekend. The day before we had had an amazing climb of Pen y Fan, the highest mountain in the Brecon Beacons. We were lucky – stunning views from the top and sensations of the experience putting our lives into perspective. It is often stated that being in nature is a key way to maintain mental health, as it enables us to sense our connection with the natural world. Such experiences should be a central pillar for education but sadly are too often not given the priority that they warrant. The great Ukrainian teacher, Sukholmlinsky, made this the starting point for educating children. I recommend you read his book; My Heart I Give to Children – a real treat for anyone interested in how children really learn and interested in understanding the human condition.
It is thoughts about the human condition that I now wish to share; my story beginning on the second day of the weekend – the Sunday. After the experience of the climb on Pen y Fan, the previous day, we decided on our return home to Rutland to explore the town of Brecon. We found our way to Brecon Cathedral, wanting to explore this 900-year-old building. On arrival, we found that a service was taking place so we couldn’t go in. this presented an opportunity for Jane to chat to the coffee vendor whose converted land rover fascinated her. Edward recounted the story of why he and his wife (name?) sold coffee at the Cathedral on Sundays. I stated to eavesdrop, finding the conversation fascinating. They were creative artists from the film and theatre world. They had decided to leave the rat race of a London environment and seek the more tranquil environment of Wales.
Edward asked us what we did and was so interested when I said that we helped people to develop ethical intelligence, which nurtures ethical leadership – the ability to ethically self-regulate behaviour. The methodology we use is known as Values-based Education (VbE). Edward pressed me for greater clarification, asking, “Will you expand on this definition of VbE?”
I shared that Values-based Education (VbE) is a transformational movement, which supports schools in developing a whole school culture based on values. In a VbE school pupils explore, experience and live enhancing universal human values through assemblies, all the subject disciplines and the entire curriculum experience. It gives young people access to an ethical vocabulary that supports the development of ethical intelligence, enabling them to learn at a deeper level and to self-regulate their own behaviour and responses. Qualities so needed for their lives - and our world.
He enthused about what I was telling him, and he then shared the following story with me.
A man from space visited Earth and saw someone holding a fish that had just been caught. The fish was distressed, thrashing about, and gulping for oxygen in order to breathe. The alien was told that this was a fish. When he returned to his planet he told others about his discovery of fish – creatures that are distressed and thrash about. He had not been told that fish really live in water and behave in a natural, graceful and indeed beautiful way.
Edward fixed his gaze on me and said, “If aliens came to Earth and studied us, they would see us stressed, thrashing about being mentally dis-eased. Why? Because we are no longer living in harmony with our natural environment – everything is becoming out of balance on our planet.” He went on to share that the values work that we and others do is so needed by humanity.
I am very aware, as Edward is, that there are countless numbers of people who are recognising the truth of his fish story, looking for an antidote, seeing the transformational potential in a renaissance in human values. World Values Day focuses our attention on the transformational powers of values. Why and how enhancing values such as respect, compassion, integrity and altruism can help us in these times of dysfunctional planetary complexity – climate change, habitat decline, water shortage, poor air quality etc., etc., etc…
I believe that each of us is now required to find that peaceful centre of us that we can then radiate into the world. Values guide our thinking and behaviour. The outcome would be that each of us would develop the ethical leadership of ourselves and model this to others. Imagine our world if our political leaders were acting as ethical leaders. Our world would be transformed. We would be able to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Goals for our planet and the flourishing of humanity.
Let’s make this World Values Day, the day this change really begins. Act now, and be the change you want to see in the world.
Dr. Neil Hawkes
Founder, Values-based Education (VbE)