Friday, June 09, 2017

Well, here’s a quotation with a lot to unpack and consider, as we head into the weekend:

 “The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude”.

It was written more than a century ago by William James, who many have come to think of as the father of American psychology.  His few simple words uncover a secret power available to everyone and one that we should put to regular use in the education and training of the young. 

As adults and teachers, most of us have learned this lesson from experience (…or from having it pointed out to us!). It’s no surprise that one of the most important steps a person can take in achieving their greatest potential in life is to learn to monitor their own attitude and its impact on their work, relationships and everyone around them.

In working with students, parents, educators and volunteers for most of my life, I believe it really is true that “attitude is everything”. I have seen this reflected in the lives of elite athletes and self-made entrepreneurs – and especially in the lives of many people I know who have overcome adversity or personal challenges of one sort or another.  The game changer is always attitude and it is a powerful catalyst.

Richard Carlson, a well-known psychotherapist and motivational speaker, believes part of the answer lies in not “sweating the small stuff” and one of the themes in his work is the need for people, generally, to lighten up.  Everywhere today there are people who can be uptight and frustrated about virtually everything most of the time – and some of them are prone to chronic outrage.  This must be an exhausting state of existence and, when children and students are steeped in this kind of high-octane pressure cooker, they can develop some of the same habits of mind.  Children learn what they live.

Many people with rich life experience often cite attitude as the game changer.  What are some of the strategies we can model for our students and kids to help them develop a positive attitude?  First, we can demonstrate that we assume good intentions in our interactions with others.  This may seem obvious, but it is an increasingly rare quality in a cynical, pessimistic and suspicious culture. Next, how about resisting the urge to criticize? Chronic criticism, like swearing, tends to become a bad habit and it risks poisoning the outlook, innocence and openness of little ones, sometimes resulting in a plague of joylessness and negativity. And what about accepting the reality that “praise and blame are all the same” (…which is just a fancy way of saying that you can’t please all of the people all of the time!)?  Can it really be as simple as choosing your attitude? I wonder.

It is the wise person who remembers that “one hundred years from now”, there will be “all new people”.  Food for thought as we stop and consider our ability to influence our own patterns of thinking and behavior.  Amid the slights and challenges of life, this idea may fill us with needed perspective during times of perceived crisis or stress.

As Matthews Hall looks forward with gratitude to celebrating its centenary in 2018, I feel certain that Kate Matthews herself would wholeheartedly agree.  After all, it was Kate who taught children to “face life bravely and with joy, whatever it may bring!”

Ric Anderson, Head of School