Opinion

Understanding our deepest fear

NOT for the first time, I am aware that one thing leads to another when thinking about subject matter for a column.

For no reason other than desperation, my search for ideas led me back to a talk I gave at a Fairholme College fundraising breakfast in September 2006.

I've long forgotten what the money was for or why an early start on a Saturday morning was thought to be a good idea.

The principal in those days was Stan Klan, Stan the Man, who apparently now lives on long-distance European trains although that certainly was not the reason for the fundraising.

I keep a record of all these little talks, about 500 of them, on my computer and will probably transfer them to my lovely new iPad as soon as I have mastered the necessary gestures....

My stuff at the breakfast included dubious Latin quotes and references to a snobby English girls' school adjacent to my own snobby English boys' school. Access to the snobby girls was achieved by misdirecting a discus thrown during testosterone-fired training sessions, with the subsequent need for retrieval when their snobby principal was looking the other way.

I'm sure it's not like that at Fairholme, but it did provide me with the basis from which to talk about the importance of encouraging the very brightest in our community to cherish and nurture their brightness.

In retrospect, some of what I said then was actually surprisingly good, especially with challengingly early bacon and eggs and the prospect of a long weekly shopping trip ahead of many of us.

I finished my stuff by saying:

"It's incredibly important we care for those with disabilities, those with learning difficulties and those who achieve marvellous progress and outcomes despite those difficulties. However, it is equally important that we recognise the needs of the intellectually most able among us....and 'license people to be outstanding'.

"We need to tell people that it's okay to be bright, okay to be smarter than the average, just as it's okay to be the best at netball, or swimming or caring for people. Being given the 'freedom' to be really excellent at anything can be incredibly scary."

I then made the mistake of trying to be clever.

I read them what I described as a famous quotation from former President Nelson Mandela's 1994 inaugural address.

It's the one that begins: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."

Unfortunately I now know that Nelson Mandela never said that, brilliant though he was. Many people, luckily including my audience that morning, think he did so I got away with it.

The quote is actually by a fascinatingly complicated woman called Marianne Williamson from her book A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles.

The full quote, still brilliant, can be seen at aetw.org/mandela and I recommend it.

Anyway, I've actually come full circle in my search for subject matter. Truth to tell, I had originally decided to write about Nelson Mandela. He's one of my greatest heroes and he is fighting to recover and retain his health.

An African National Congress activist, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1962, spending 27 years in prison before being released in February 1990. He was the first black African president of South Africa, from 1994-1999.

During his presidency, the ANC's chief whip in parliament and subsequently the premier of the Eastern Cape, Makhenkesi Stofile, was a huge Mandela friend and supporter. I sat next to Premier Stofile at a dinner for him during his visit to USQ some years ago.

He talked about his friendship and many other things....

Topics:  blog fears opinion professor peter swannell



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