Bouncing Forward

20 September, 2017

“You gotta make decisions. You gotta keep making decisions, even if they’re wrong decisions. If you don’t make decisions, you’re stuffed.” – Joe Simpson, in Touching The Void, talking about his decision to lower himself deeper into the crevasse he has fallen into, alone, with a broken leg, in the Peruvian Andes.  3 Jul 2011

At some point in all of our lives, we face adversity. Things we had taken to be guarantees(our parents, our health, our sense of safety) fall through and we are left with the frightening realities of living. Living is dangerous. Living sometimes is uncertain. And the question we must ask ourselves is: what do we need to do in order to continue and thrive anyway?

This was the question that emerged for me as I started writing about intelligence and creativity. These two factors seem to be the key components for surviving in a world that can be both violent and mercurial.  Creativity – defined by Ken Robinson as the ability to generate dynamic, original ideas that add value – enables us to engage in convergent thinking, to brainstorm, in other words, all of our options. Intelligence – the ability to adapt our methods in order to change the outcome – allows us to analyse and make the right decisions. A further aspect that I believe makes a difference is grit.

Grit – described by psychologist Angela Duckworth – is the ability to sustain interest in and effort towards long term goals. It includes personal attributes like resilience, self esteem and self-discipline and has discernible outcomes including higher IQ scores and greater mental wellbeing.

Adverse circumstances

Personally, I believe we are in confusing times for all three of these skills. Despite being innate to all of us, I think creativity is a vastly misunderstood quality, too often confused with fame and imitation. If we define creativity as the ability to make new ideas, it’s ironic that so much of the “creativity” that we see is referential – someone singing the songs that were written for someone else. I believe that true creativity bears no relationship to its bejewelled media cousins. It has a quiet nature, it is an individual, authentic voice gaining strength, it is the process of developing a fresh point of view. In a world of endless snapchat photographs, creativity is the first Man Ray.

Intelligence faces equal difficulty. Our society has developed such a narrow perception of intelligence that one may think our job was “to create university professors and nothing more” (Ken Robinson) and in his research, Graham Donaldson noted the constant pressures facing schools so that their job has been about “implementing external procedures faithfully” instead of creating environments that encourage curiosity and nurture diverse talents.

The implications for “grit” in these circumstances are equally concerning. As Einstein wrote, “if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” In the same way, if we look at students with diverse talents as stupid (which our Education system does) then how long until they begin to incorporate that experience with their own self perception? How much resilience does it take to continue when your time at school teaches you that you that you can’t. Shame researcher Brene Brown says that 80% of students quit a subject because of a humiliating experience when working with it. The implications for disaffection and wellbeing in learners are wide ranging.

How to thrive

This is not to say that all is lost – quite the reverse. There are many factors that help us develop these skills and these include great relationships – with our family, our friends and ourselves – our sense of gratitude, and what we grow up around. It includes those great parents and teachers out there who inspire us with encouraging environments even in constrained times. It also includes our own attitudes and choices – to embrace our passions and pay attention to our interests, to get up each day and say “not today Satan, not today!”

This is to say that Bounce stands for these children and their futures and it is always recruiting. We’re part of a movement that recognises the importance of grit, intelligence and creativity and we understand that if we want individuals to have them; we have to give them the skills.

Donaldson describes it as the ability to “identify and grasp opportunities, reframe and creatively frame problems”. The Reggio Emilia describes it as “experiential learning in a relationship driven environment.” Personally, I describe it as wholehearted learning: being curious, playful and resilient in a world that is home to both ferocious storms and ferocious passions. And that one, in fact, provides the context for the other.

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