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Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

Hope is the only thing stronger than fear

Hope is the only thing stronger than fear

Listening to the news on the radio recently, I was interested to hear a commentator talk about the fact that, as a result of the recession and consequent employment and financial difficulties, large numbers of people have got to the point in their lives where they are now in a position of hopelessness. They have lost pretty much everything and then, just when it doesn’t seem it could worse, the last bastion has crumbled: hope.

Why have they lost hope?

I personally can’t think of anything more terrifying.

You and I both know of situations where hope is the one thing that keeps us going. Hope that things will get better – because they can only get better. But what if that hope is lost?

We live by hope – or faith, if you want to use that expression. Nothing is certain (apart from death and taxes) so hope is essential to our existence.

Being amongst children for most of my working day, I frequently come across children for whom there seems to be little hope – but what is worse is when I occasionally witness a lack of hope expressed by their adult mentors (be they parents or school staff). When adults have no expectation of a child, that is more worrying than the child’s own sense of hopelessness: a child can be restored if hope is put into them by an adult mentor but, if that is lacking, there really is very little hope.

Never deprive someone of hope – it might be all they have.  (H. Jackson Brown, Jr)

I try to imagine what it must be like to be a child who has little hope. It must be very scary: as children, we need security, love, warmth, compassion – but if those are in short supply, a child must live in perpetual fear, scraping an existence from what little exists in the form of healthy self-esteem. You’ve met them, I’m sure: scared on the inside (but they won’t show it) and manifesting all kinds of worrying behaviours on the outside, be it withdrawal, frustration, lack of engagement, defensiveness or  just plain and simple anger. How terrifying to have to live with that  – constantly trying to establish one’s own identity and worth but failing miserably. Fortunately, we have moved on from the time when children were simply labelled as ‘naughty’ and we now know that external behaviour is an indicator of what’s going on inside – a coping mechanism, if you like.

How reliant are children in your care on the hope that you can give them?

How do you look beyond the behaviour and see a child crying for help?

How do you instill hope within a child?

How do you help a child to overcome fear?

I could go on about fear in our own lives as educators and those who lead in education but I think that requires a different space. Suffice to say that there aren’t many of us who can face fear and hopelessness on our own own: each of us needs someone to believe in us, to encourage us, to instill hope within us when fear looms large.

For there really is nothing worse to fear than fear itself – the absence of hope.

Because ‘Hope is the only thing stronger than fear.’ (Suzanne Collins)

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I’m dreaming of a Christmas

Single Tree in Snow by Petr Kratochvil

Single Tree in Snow by Petr Kratochvil

 

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas – just like the ones I used to know…

According to the Guinness Book of  World Records, Bing Crosby’s version of Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ is the best-selling single of all time, with sales exceeding 50 million. The song, albeit short and relatively simple in its lyricism, resonates with what many of us think of at Christmas: re-creating our best memories of the season.

Mine include waking early with my younger brothers and sisters to find a stocking at the end of each of our beds, emptying them all over the floor with squeals of surprise and delight, eating the chocolate before sunrise and playing or experimenting with the various nick-nacks that comprised their contents. Eventually, we would wake Mum and Dad up to surprise them with theirs – we all clubbed together to fill a stocking for them, too. The day continued with a Christmas Day service at the chapel followed by a late Christmas dinner at around 3pm and even more presents well into the late afternoon. The lounge floor was, by then, covered with wrapping paper and each person had gathered a pile of toys, games and books in their lap or on the floor round their feet.

But Christmas was never white. My first white Christmas was at around the age of 40.

Now, with children of my own, who are equally excited about the festival as I was at their age, it has not lost its sparkle but I often reminisce about Christmas as a child and, when Bing Crosby’s dulcet tones floating out of the speakers, I wonder what kind of Christmas we are actually dreaming of and why.

Why do we have such high expectations of Christmas? Is it because the rest of the year is so disappointing? Is it because Christmas has been hyped up to deliver – when, in fact, it rarely does and, if we were honest, it can’t?

And are those expectations realistic? Is it realistic to expect a ‘high’ at Christmas that absorbs or masks the drudgery, pain or trials of what we consider to be real life?

If we’re not careful, Christmas can be a massive disappointment that comes at a high cost:

  • According to Money Advice Service’s 2013 Christmas spending survey, one in three UK adults say they expect to start 2014 in debt because of Christmas spending and one in ten are still paying for last Christmas (2012).
  • According to eBay, there are around 100,000 unwanted Christmas presents sold on its site each year, the total value this year expecting to be in excess of £2 billion.
  • January 8th is the busiest day of the year for divorce lawyers when up to one in five couples will enquire about divorce after the pressures of Christmas. The enforced intimacy of Christmas, coupled with the start of a new year is thought to be the main trigger.

 

Like many things in life, if we come with an expectation to receive, we are often disappointed. However, if we come with an expectation to give, we will often find that what we receive in turn is surprising, unexpected and memorable.

As I write, it is New Year’s Eve, 31st December 2013. The highlights of my particular Christmas have been those times of sharing, helping and giving: sharing food, chocolates, jokes, a good film, conversation; helping with preparations and clearing up, helping my kids put up decorations, helping my wife wrap gifts – and giving: gifts, time, smiles and encouragement.

How about NOT dreaming of an idyllic Christmas but, instead, making Christmastime real – for ourselves and for those we share it with.

Happy Christmas 2014…