I few things have got me thinking this week and have resulted in me writing this post. I recently wrote a wellbeing update (https://lenabellina.wordpress.com/2016/03/11/wellbeing-15-16-update/) and received some very helpful feedback from @jillberry which included a suggestion that I watch this by @jasonramasami: https://vimeo.com/130382402. I also read a very thought provoking post by Susan Ward ( http://www.pedagoo.org/any-questions/ ) and it all got me thinking about a lesson that my dad once taught me. It wasn’t one of those life lessons that takes place over a camp fire and stays etched in your memory for ever but rather a literal lesson; my dad served a double purpose in my life for a while as father and economics teacher. I had a brief flirtation with economics in sixth form. I started off doing A Level EPA (economic and political affairs) but being hopeless at maths sent the economics the same way as both physics and a career in medicine had gone a year previously. I decided to settle with an O level in economics and went on to do straight A level politics. However, I remember that dad …or rather Mr Bell…talked in an economics lesson about the fact that within our lifetime we would experience a shift in working patterns as technology created efficiencies that would result in more leisure time. The leisure industry would grow and people would work less because tech and IT would make it possible to achieve tasks in less time.
I do remember wondering about the subtle difference between having more leisure time and being unemployed…..however, there was clearly an economic model underpinning the ideas.
So, where has that Generation Leisure gone? It sadly seems to have become what the Guardian this week referred to as Generation K? http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/19/think-millennials-have-it-tough-for-generation-k-life-is-even-harsher. What on earth is going on here? The article cites: “Life for us is hard. A struggle,” says Jake, 16, “I think we’ve got it much tougher than our parents’ generation. But we can’t give up.” Seemingly “British teenagers are among the most troubled in the world”: of the 42 nationalities surveyed, only Macedonian and Polish teens are less happy with their lot.” It reports that we have teenagers crippled by anxiety; about debt, about terrorism, about social relationships. But in fact the article does go on to give some hope, pointing out that teenagers generally value authenticity, connection and friendship.
There is no doubt that we live in a society that should have more free-time and where technology has created efficiency. Take a practical example. I am studying for the Scottish ‘Into Headship’ course which requires me to read a lot of academic literature. Twenty years ago, this would have probably required me driving to Glasgow (2 hours each way), going to a library, checking out each and every book and article (because they would have been the type that you could not take home), sitting and reading each one and taking copious notes. I cannot begin to calculate the time that this would have taken; time away from family, dead time travelling, time finding parking, time stuck in traffic. Today, I can click on a link in a virtual library and the book is here, on my laptop. I can read parts of it, go and put on a load of washing, come back to it, add notes electronically, spend an hour on a family walk, come back to it again.
Hours of my life have been saved in this way. I have hours more time that I can spend on leisure, with my friends and family, relaxing, meditating, right?
But actually, no. Because those hours that I have gained have somehow been hi-jacked by other things; learning Spanish, exercising, cleaning the house, trying once again to sort the finances. Doing, doing, doing……worrying, worrying, worrying.
Because the reality is that free time is SCARY. And space and quietness are times where the mind can ask those disturbing questions:
Who am I?
What is life all about?
Who do I want to be?
I would argue (and I know that others have done it more eloquently) that these questions are particularly disturbing in our now largely secular society where God, the church and the state no longer provide the majority with answers to questions about the meaning of life.
And so instead of trying to provide secular answers to the meaning of life and self, we have created a religion of busyness.
And it is not just an issue in the world of education. Read Ariana Huffington’s book ‘Thrive’. Read or watch ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’ by Allison Pearson. And listen to John Lennon’ s ‘Beautiful Boy, written as long ago as 1981, where he said “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
It is time to fight back. Because as educators, parents and people, we need to encourage Generation Leisure to learn how to live and be happy in the life they have. To know themselves and their minds. To self-regulate. To live with uncertainty and understand the things they can be certain of. To embrace the best in social media and to reject the rubbish.
There is a growing movement who are working hard to take this forward. They include the ‘#teacher5aday group, the #optimisticEd group, those who are fighting to raise the profile of PSHE (including Dr Pooky Knighstsmith @PookyH) and of course the man who now goes by the title ‘my favourite Doctor’, Dr Tim O’Brien and his book ‘Inner Story’; you can read my review here: http://staffrm.io/@lenabellina/LDzWUOXAjW.
Back to Mr Bell and economics. Another lesson led me to the work ‘Leviathan’, written by Thomas Hobbes in 1651 which referred to state of mankind when unregulated as “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Over 300 hundred years later and our lives (at least in the Western world) are far from this. Yet, reading about Generation K, we might be led to believe that they are.
Let’s stop and see the wood amongst the trees. And let’s hold on to Jake’s optimism:
“…we can’t give up.”
Happy International Happiness Day.