“It’s not what you look at, but what you see”
Henry David Thoreau
The teensiest bit of perspective goes a long way. The little quote above has actually helped me quite a bit. It helps me recognise that life is not black and white. Even if sometimes I can’t affect what happens to me; I always have the choice to decide how I view each person or situation I encounter.
One example is my daily commute. The drive to work is a 100 mile round trip. It is almost all on the M25 (which I firmly believe turns into the UK’s biggest carpark during rush hour) and I spend hours sitting in traffic. Literally. Hours. A good day for me is getting to work within 2 hours and home within 3. And it costs a lot. Not just in time but financially too. I love my job but the endless queues and miles of brake lights stretching ahead of me don’t exactly fill me with joy. However, I am sure I have learned a little patience over the past 3 years. At least; I sure hope I have! What has helped me get through the long drive is also the quote above. I look out at hundreds of cars worth of traffic, crammed into three lanes in each direction and hemmed in with barriers to protect the outside world from the sight of us; tall fencing, high banks of earth and other obstructions that save local communities from having to view the never-ending stream of vehicles. And after more than a little frustration on a few occasions I decided I needed a bit of perspective. I started a little personal project to find beauty amongst the mass of queuing automobiles. Believe it or not, seeking out something wonderful to capture has had a very positive effect on my mindset (and for any of you frowning and tutting at me for taking pictures on my phone whilst driving: I’ll have you know I only do it when my handbrake is on and my engine is switched off, which counts as parking thank you very much). Above and below are a few little moments since I started this little project 6 months ago – check out my instagram for more if you’re interested!
Example number two: The reason I endure countless hours in my little VW Gulf is because I truly love what I do. I teach teenagers who have failed at school and been kicked out from all other education options due to poor behaviour. However; on a bad day – amongst all of the aggression, verbal abuse and bruises – it can prove a bit tricky not to feel useless, helpless and hopeless. But, like Mr Thoreau suggests above, it depends on what I am choosing to see. As I write up all the daily required reports about each learner, I make sure to include at least one thing that went well for them that day. Don’t get me wrong – this can sometimes take a while to come up with and it can be a tiny thing such as the fact that they actually arrived at school. But it can also be positive changes that we wouldn’t have noticed if we hadn’t been really searching for them in the chaos – holding a door open, moving away from the elderly or young children when aggressive and threatening, calming down a little faster than usual, accepting someone else’s view, showing teamwork in football, making an effort. It’s these little things that could easily go unnoticed that are often the key to unlocking the potential in an individual. Our learners are used to being yelled at, criticised, arrested, told they won’t or can’t achieve, feeling unworthy, scared, helpless, out of control. And if that’s all they’ve had then it’s no wonder they end up with us. Along with clear boundaries, if we can help each teenager notice the good in themselves and encourage it – give them attention and praise for the positives, show them that they can contribute and are worth something – then somewhere along the line (and trust me it can be a very, very long line) something beautiful happens. They start to believe it. They start to believe in themselves.