A few weeks ago, I was eating with a friend in my favourite Indian restaurant in Crystal Palace, here in South London. We got talking to the couple at the next table – both, I’d guess, in their early thirties. The conversation eventually got around – as it so often does – to what the four of us did for a living. When it came to me and I told the couple I’d worked as a freelance writer/director in the film industry, there were the usual reactions. Their faces lit up. “That must have been really interesting!” “Bet you worked in some fascinating places.” “What famous people did you work with?” etc., etc. And the final question, “How on earth did you manage to get into that?”
I told them I’d known from the age of about sixteen that making films, along with writing, was what I wanted to do. One Saturday afternoon, I’d seen at a local cinema, an extraordinary French film, now a classic of world cinema, ‘Le Salaire de La Peur’ – ‘The Wages of Fear.’ It stunned me and left me with a really burning desire to work in that business.
The couple looked at me, and the man said, rather wistfully, “So you really did spend your working life doing what you wanted to do?” And he looked at me almost like I was a being from some gentler, nicer world. “That must have felt wonderful.”
It did. It still does. OK, I was very lucky – whatever that means – that I had the feelings inside me that connected with that film that afternoon in the cinema. I was also very determined. I wrote letters to various people in the film industry telling them I was prepared to work for nothing and sweep floors if they’d give me a job! I don’t think they were impressed – nothing came my way from that. It was some years later when I was at university that I managed to get a job at a small documentary company in London, simply on the basis of an interview.
I loved my time in the business. I worked all over the world. I worked with some great film crews – many of them really unusual people. I worked with many celebrities. I won international awards for both writing and directing. As the man said, it felt wonderful. But why, I got to wondering, was my experience so rare?
Among young people, there is a huge variety of latent talent. Yet the vast majority will end up doing jobs and pursuing careers, in which they have little interest beyond that of paying the mortgage. Is that what we bring them up for? Is that all we can offer them? Their untapped individual talents could be benefitting society, and in the process giving each of them a sense of fulfilment and genuine purpose. That in itself would avoid much of the tension, stress and anxiety so many adults live with now on a day-to-day basis.
Our education system takes little serious account of the innate and latent talent out there. The original meaning of ‘education’ is not to sit young people down in a room five hours a day and cajole them into ingesting a whole series of pre-digested opinions about this, that and the other, and then take a few examinations at the end of it – with the prime purpose of getting a job. That’s not education. At best it’s cultural conditioning; at the worst, cultural brain-washing.
I used to say to my children when they were young, ‘I don’t mind what you do when you grow up, as long as whatever you do is what you really, really want to do. Be tramps if you like; as long as you’re happy tramps.’ In every individual, there is some innate talent – however modest. And the original meaning of education was to find out what that talent is and to bring it out and nurture it – ‘educere’ – Latin for ‘to lead out’, ‘to bring forth.’
Yes, I know – the implementation of such a system would be quite beyond the scope, the vision and the courage of today’s politicians – it would mean pretty well overturning society as we now know it. But society is not doing too well at the moment, is it? I think it would benefit from a bit of overturning. It’s beginning to look and feel like it’s been taken over by madmen, and run by them in the interests of other madmen.
However, some instinct tells me that we are already not too far from a seismic upheaval; that the present turmoil is like the crust above a fault line in the earth being tossed aside prior to an earthquake. A new way of thinking and of living is, I believe, beginning to force itself up through this present crumbling fabric like a chick breaking out of the egg. I really hope so. Then perhaps a time will come – however far hence – when our young people are taken seriously and the huge fund of genuine talent that at present goes largely to waste in our societies will be used to the benefit of us all.
The following is a meditation on the above subject. It’s from the book of meditations I’m working on – albeit on a sporadic basis.
“Few of us are educated in the true meaning of the word. Nor do we truly educate our children. For if we would do that we would be concerned not only to teach them the essential skills of literacy and numeracy, but to draw out from them and encourage to flower in this world, that which is in each of them by nature.
For every one of us is a piece of the jigsaw and has his or her unique contribution to make. That way, they would grow toward wholeness and balance. As it is, we pay scant regard to their inner selves, imposing on them from without a system of essentially short-term, superficial disciplines whose primary purpose is to prepare them for future employment and the illusion of ‘security’. Thus confined to the shallows and distanced from their own hearts, they grow out of true. What they most profoundly are is pushed aside to bide its time in a locked room. And there it will work mischief. For be in no doubt, God denied becomes the Devil.
As we do to them, so it was done to us. Do you wonder there is resentment and disillusionment among the young?”
(If any teacher reading this is affronted, please accept my apologies – you may be totally dedicated and doing a magnificent job. The fact remains however that you’re still working within a basically two hundred year old system designed primarily to condition for employment and to ‘fit in’, rather than to elicit talent, and nurture the soul).