‘We should tell more stories of hope, kindness and compassion’
- Credit: Archant
Do you remember the story of the British schoolboys whose plane crash landed on a deserted island in the middle of the Pacific where they spent weeks trying to survive before being rescued?
William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is a book that sticks in my memory for all the wrong reasons. It tells the story of a group of children who, left alone to their own devices, broke all the rules, lived like animals and turned into savages. They were eventually rescued by a British naval officer but not before they had managed to wreak havoc and even commit murder.
The author wanted us to be convinced by the ‘darkness of man’s heart’ when left to fend for ourselves, devoid of rules or authority. Millions of copies have been sold and it has been described as a twentieth century classic. Like many other young people, it was one of my O level texts but I really hated it. I found it thoroughly depressing and it left me feeling demoralised and disillusioned. Although I felt duty-bound to study it to pass the exam, it was a story I couldn’t believe in and never wanted to pick up again.
Recently I have come to learn more about William Golding and what motivated him in Rutger Bregman’s excellent and uplifting book, Humankind: A Hopeful History.
Golding was a man who hit his own children, an alcoholic who sympathised with Nazi viewpoints and someone who saw evil as something inside everyone just waiting to surface.
Rutger Bregman asks the question, what would happen in real life if a group of kids were left alone on a desert island to fend for themselves? He reveals an amazing true-life story of a group of school children from Tonga who became ship-wrecked and marooned on a desert island in 1966. But their real life story ends very differently to Golding’s fantasy.
It is a wonderfully heartwarming story of adventure, comradeship, survival and reunion but it has never been properly told. Bregman’s book challenges us to see humankind in a new light.
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Perhaps we are not all selfish, self-serving, subservient to dark thoughts and evil tendencies? He argues that we have allowed ourselves to be portrayed in that way for far too long, our stories and our news perpetuates that, and he makes a convincing argument that it is about time we changed our perspective and became more hopeful and optimistic.
In the last 20 years the science of positive psychology has built up an impressive portfolio of research of people at their best, playing to their strengths and seeking to be the best version of themselves in order to contribute to their community in a way that brings hope, kindness and compassion. You only need to tune into DIY SOS to see numerous examples of how generous we can be and the powerful emotions raised as people respond to human need. This programme certainly shows that compassion is not gender specific - we can all find ways to show how much we care and there is good in all of us.
In our world at the moment we are surrounded by people doing amazing things for others. In our care homes, our hospitals and our schools, the compassionate, caring side of human nature shines out. Despite the risks to themselves, people are putting others first. An abundance of good and kind acts are happening every day in our communities.
These are the stories that we need to tell in our families, on our news channels and through our publications, perhaps also from our rooftops.
It is through the telling of stories that our children learn about the world, about human nature and about themselves. We select and define what it is important to remember and what we choose to say becomes our reality and shapes our future. Let’s make sure that we are listening to people with something good to say.
• Clare Flintoff is the CEO of Asset Education, which runs a number of schools across Suffolk.