Change in the world
Robert L. Fielding
“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problem.”
“It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”
“Man becomes great exactly in the degree in which he works for the welfare of his fellow-men.”
”Constant development is the law of life, and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position.”
In the dialogue that follows, Mohandas K. Gandhi, better known at the Mahatma, talks to one of his friends about what he means by his words quoted above.
Siv Karun: You once said that the difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problem, did you not? Why did you say that and what exactly did you mean by it?
Mohandas K. Ghandi: We seldom realize our full potential in this world, don’t you agree?
SK: Indeed I do, but why is that so, do you think?
MKG: Well, there may be as many reasons why it is true as there are people who do not always reach the limit of what they are capable of. It could be, for example, that some rarely if ever get the opportunity to excel in anything.
SK: Why do you think that happens?
MKG: Again, there might be a thousand reasons why that happens, but we should confine our discussion to those factors that are repeated by the many; unfortunately, the schooling many receive does not equip them to attain excellence in anything – in anything they themselves might think they are capable of excelling in.
SK: Why is that, and can you give examples to illustrate what you mean? You lay some of the faults with education, do you?
MKG: Right away, let me differentiate between schooling and education.
SK: But surely they are synonymous terms, are they not?
MKG: You could be forgiven for thinking so, yes, but our time at school may not be the same thing as being educated in the fullest sense of that word. Rather, we are usually instructed, rather than educated. Here, I tend to think of education as a sort of absolute value that can be approached but so seldom is in our days at school or at any other educational institution, come to think of it.
SK: So what you are saying is that it is this instruction that is erroneous?
MKG: Yes, but we must not generalize too much, lest we go the way of the uneducated, which would be ironic since we are supposing ourselves knowledgeable about that very subject: education.
What I mean is that just as parents tend to bring their children up as they themselves were brought up, so teachers teach in ways they themselves were taught.
If a teacher was taught under a system that rewarded the regurgitation of facts, rather than an understanding that went deeper than mere factual information, then that teacher might conduct his lessons accordingly, rewarding those pupils who repeat word for word what they were told the day before, and not reward – I don’t say punish, you will notice – will not reward those who cannot repeat the words he recited earlier in the week, even though those same pupils may have some understanding of their import. Do you see what I mean?
SK: Yes, I do, but surely pupils find their level, find what they are good at and like and excel in that, don’t they?
MKG: And what will a youngster do if he excels at art, say, and not at mathematics? Will that youngster be encouraged as much as one of his classmates who excels at maths?
SK: Who can say, it depends upon individual teachers, surely.
MKG: That may be true, but it is much more likely that such a pupil who is good at art, say at painting, and not so good at maths, will not receive half the encouragement or praise that the other receives, the one, you will remember, who is good at maths.
Now, my question to you is this: why should that happen, that one gets praise and encouragement while another gets less, or nothing?
SK: That must have to do with the individuals in each case, surely.
MKG: You might be forgiven for thinking so, but in fact, a more compelling answer would be that whereas subjects Maths and English, Chemistry, Physics and Biology are promoted and rewarded, the Arts – Music, Paining, Dancing and the like are not thought as important by teaching staff, by their curriculum, or by the whole system that employs them – the Ministry of Education – no one thinks Art as useful as Maths, it seems.
SK: But that is surely the correct way to educate; giving our youngsters the ability to do well in those subjects that they will need to get a job once they leave school.
MKG: That is it, my friend, you have hit the nail squarely on the head, as the English say. It is the fact that whole education systems around the world are still using the needs of industry as their yardstick – what employers need is numeracy and literacy. They care not a jot whether one of their employees can draw well, or sing, or write poetry. All they require of him is ability to manipulate rows of numbers, if he is, for instance, employed in a bank, as well as his ability to read instructions and follow them to the letter.
SK: What are you saying? Why shouldn’t the young clerk have a working knowledge of mental arithmetic, let us say.
MKG: I am not saying that he shouldn’t have that knowledge. What I am saying is that working in a bank represents only a fraction of his life. He may be a bank clerk from nine until five, but after that, he is a person, one with needs.
SK: What kind of needs? He is being paid for his time in the bank. What needs can he have?
MKG: The need to find who he is, to express this in whichever form takes him.
SK: But how does this help the nation, the company that employs him, his family, society?
MKG: You must know little of how society functions, how families function, how individuals function and flourish to ask such a question. It is a truism that man does not live by bread alone.
We will start from there, shall we? I must first ask the question; why do people work and work hard?
SK: For money, of course. What else would they work for?
MKG: I think you are wrong. True, they go out and find a job because they need to live and living costs money. My question was, why do they work? What drives them every hour of every day spent in the office or on the factory floor? What makes the apprentice lathe turner want to improve his abilities and become skilled at his trade?
SK: Again, my answer would be money – what he gets paid for working at his lathe.
MKG: I think you are mistaken. Whilst doing his job, learning, for example, how to sharpen a tool to cut a screw thread, he thinks nothing of his wage on Thursday – though if asked he might say he does. No, what he thinks about whilst doing his job is the work in front of him. He cannot afford to let his concentration go, or else his screw thread is ruined and the job scrapped.
He works to produce a shining screw threaded component that is within the limits set by the engineering drawing he is working from. That is what he has in his head – he is creating something that was not there until he began work, and now, here it is, something that he has turned from a lifeless lump of steel, into a thing of real and exact beauty – a manifestation in metal of something two dimensionally drawn upon piece of paper. It is creativity that drives him not his wage on Thursday. That simply prevents him from choosing to do nothing and lie in bed in the morning. It is money that drives him to work and stay at it, but it is something he brings to his work that is more important – his ability and his desire to create.
SK: But we cannot all be like that. Someone has to do the humdrum work.
MKG: Unfortunately that is true, that kind of work has to be done by someone. But, even the man sweeping the floor of a factory workshop, even the woman whose job it is to keep the toilets clean, those people have just as much need to feel creative, to express themselves as the young lad on the lathe.
SK: But how can they be creative sweeping floors or cleaning toilets. Surely their education, or I should say, their lack of it, has led them to the poor jobs they do.
MKG: And that is it, is it? They must languish unfulfilled and do mundane work without any other recompense than a wage at the end of the week?
SK: Why should it be otherwise? Who expects it to be any different?
MKG: Again, there you have it, my friend, your aim at hitting the nail on the head never fails you. The labourer sweeping the floor, the woman cleaning the toilet, both are human beings, are they not? Both have minds to think, hands to make, eyes to see. Why should they be dismissed by society as beyond saving, as something almost sub-human, when in fact, society has such great need of them?
SK: I can’t agree with you there. How are such people needed, as much, say as the chief executive of a company?
MKG: Ask the people who use the toilets the woman usually cleans, how they are if she falls ill and nobody comes in to keep them clean. Ask the machinists toiling at their lathes and milling machines how their day has been if the floor around them lies unswept if the man falls ill. Tell them the toilet cleaner and the labourer sweeping the floors aren’t appreciated for the work they do.
SK: But the rewards, the financial rewards reflect the difference in difficulty of the different kinds of work, do they not?
MKG: Quite so, they do indeed. But we have just agreed, have we not, that man does not live by bread alone; that everyone needs something to put themselves into; everybody needs to be free to create, in some way, and yet we still continue to educate our children – perhaps I should say indoctrinate them - into suppressing that side of their characters – the side in which they find their fullest expression as a valued member of society.
SK: Now you put it that way, I think I agree with you, but how can we proceed in our schooling?
MKG: By some specialisation – by treating a class full of children as individuals rather than as one; by stopping the system of education – the ‘one size fits all’ type of system, and replacing it with something that seeks out and finds, and then encourages and promotes talent in whatever form it appears in a child’s school day; by rewarding talents that children have, even if they are at variance with a curriculum.
SK: But there must be a curriculum. A school must set itself goals and achieve them through the academic excellence of the scholars it turns out.
MKG: You sound as if you are talking about a production line in a car plant, rather than a school.
We must move away from an industrial model of education – one in which parts of the correct dimensions for the jobs they will undertake are ‘turned out’, as you say, and replace it with an agricultural model.
SK: Which is?
MKG: We should replicate the work of the arable farmer, who prepares the soil in readiness for the seeds he grows to produce a crop he can harvest – that is what I mean by an agricultural model of education.
SK: What would be the advantages of such a system?
MKG: The advantage would be that each child gets two things: tuition in main subjects like maths and English and in the sciences – physics, chemistry and biology – and then more individualised tuition in something like electives – courses chosen by individual pupils.
SK: But how can a child of six, seven, or eight choose anything? They are surely too young to choose. Surely, it would be better to wait until they move to their secondary education before choosing anything, wouldn’t it?
MKG: So you wouldn’t change anything. In fact, a pupil shows his or her ability in doing something at an early age. We notice that some children need to move to think, some are good with activities that are not limited to set laws, as it were. A six year old is not half a twelve year old, you know. Besides, do we not know now, through the work of Howard Gardner and others, that there are many more ways of being intelligent than the three Rs, as we used to call them.
SK: But that would involve bringing in teachers with different ranges of teaching skills, wouldn’t it?
MKG: And what is so difficult about that?
SK: We would have to train people to teach subjects that do not at present appear on any school syllabus, wouldn’t we?
MKG: Yes, we would, there is no time to lose.
SK: Why do you say that?
MKG: Because our world is awash with all sorts of problems that require a different approach if they are to be solved, and different approaches need different ways of seeing the problem, and this in turn leads to different attempts to solve them.
SK: It seems from what you are saying that what we really need to teach is creativity – how to be creative.
MKG: Exactly so.
SK: But isn’t creativity the province of the artist? Can we seriously expect engineers and scientists to become creative?
MKG: I don’t see why not. After all, arguably one of the greatest scientists of all time, Albert Einstein, admitted to going away to think over the problem in front of him, sleeping on it, and finding later that a new way of approaching the problem had occurred to him whilst sleeping. Ideas can come to the mind at any time – even when one is asleep – probably more often at that time than any other.
SK: How can that be so? If you are asleep, how can you come up with anything?
MKG: We know that the brain does not sleep, at least we think it doesn’t, but I admit that we know so very little about the workings of the brain. Even so, when the mind can concentrate fully on something, when it is unhindered by conscious thought, by images coming down the optic nerve, when it is at peace, then the mind can connect parts of the brain that may not so easily be connected in waking moments.
For that is what creative thought is, it is a way of connecting notions, let us call them, from disparate parts of the brain, via the synapses, until they crackle with new ideas through our neural networks. It has been said, has it not, that cells (of the brain) that fire together, wire together; that once new pathways have been used – found and used, if you prefer, that once such new ways of thinking come to the forefront of our minds, we can habitually utilise those seemingly and hitherto unconnected parts of our mind to create new solutions that resist a solution from more tried and tested ones, even as these ones invariably fail. This is what the world needs, not more of the same – that doesn’t work. No, what is needed at each and every level of society is for people to think in ways that are new to them, think about their own lives, and come out the better for having had such ‘new’ thoughts and applied them.
SK: That does indeed sound worth the effort or revolutionising education.
MKG: Mark my words, my friend, nothing short of that will suffice if we are to progress and have lives worth living.
SK: Do you even include criminal such as drug dealers in this?
MKG: Especially those who harm others and in so doing harm themselves. They have got to be shown that there is another way; that having money is not an end but a means – one of many, to gaining the ultimate goal of life – finding real and lasting happiness, and doing good to others – the way to this lasting goodness in one’s life.
To be continued.
Robert L. Fielding
“The world is in dire need of change – the difficult way is to achieve change so that everyone benefits - a way in which nobody suffers – a way in which nobody is left behind. If change does not come in this way, it is not real change.” Robert Leslie Fielding
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Robert L. Fielding