Back in the mid-1980’s, just after I’d left school, I hung around with a kid called Andy for a short while. He lived nearby to where I grew up (we’d since moved) and years before we’d attended the same primary school. We weren’t really mates back then but we were friendly enough toward each other.
Now we were hairy-arsed seventeen year old kids wandering the streets of Harborne and Birmingham with too much time on our hands. It didn’t take me long to establish that Andy had grown up to become a complete arsehole. He was a bully, not directly of me, I’d got enough about me by then to deal with people like Andy because I’d been both bullied and the bully in the past, but certainly of other kids and I guess, because of my previous experience, it really pissed me off.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to tolerate Andy for long. He’d signed up to join the Royal Navy after leaving school and a couple of weeks after hanging out together, he was gone. Meanwhile, having left school completely clueless as to what I intended to do, I’d been promised a job at the Birmingham Stock Exchange (yes, there used to be one), which, given this was now early Autumn and I’d left school in July, was slow to materialise. By the end of November I’d had enough of waiting and got myself a commission-only job selling house alarms door-to-door for a company called Nationwide Alarms. I really must share some interesting stories about that some day…
Anyway, back to my arsehole of a mate, Andy. The week before Christmas of 1986, the phone rang at home. For some reason, I remember the specifics.
“Christian!” the old man shouted up the stairs.
“Yeah?” I replied.
“Andy’s on the phone for you”.
“Andy who?” I replied.
“I don’t know”, replied the old man indignantly, “pick up the bloody phone and you’ll find out!”
Funny thing was, even though it’d only been a few months since I’d last seen Andy, I didn’t expect to hear from him again. I didn’t care too much if I did either.
“Alright mate, it’s Andy, I’m back”.
“Alright Andy, how’s it going?” I asked.
“Yeah good. Tell you all about it when I see you. You around later?”.
“Nah mate. Look, to be honest, I don’t enjoy your company Andy. I don’t mean to be rude but I think you’re a bit of an arsehole”.
There was, at least for me, somewhat of an awkward pause, probably no longer than five or six seconds but certainly long enough to be “felt” put it that way. Then came a response which surprised me.
“Christian, I get it mate. If I was you I’d feel the same. Look, a lot’s happened in the last three months. I’m not the kid I was. Just come down our neck of the woods and decide for yourself”.
So I did and you know, Andy turned out to be one of the nicest guys I’ve even known, not just that day but every time I saw him after that. Inevitably we drifted apart as our lives took very different directions but I’ll never forget the astonishing change that took place in Andy in such a short time.
What happened to Andy? The Royal Navy happened to Andy or, to be more precise, the self-leadership and self-discipline demanded by the Royal Navy if you’re to be in its ranks. He told me a good dose of having his head shoved down the toilet, scrubbing the decks long before dawn and cleaning the toilets with a toothbrush put pay to the arsehole and bully.
I’m no advocate of a return to compulsory National Service, after all not every teenager turns into an arsehole and a bully. Plus I believe choice is a basic human right. Not only that, the problem the Royal Navy solved in Andy should be addressed long before a person enters the working world. That said, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that many of the social problems faced today were virtually non-existent when National Service was in place. Why? It taught self-leadership, personal responsibility, ethics and moral fibre.
In other words, it brought an education in character. Where do you find one of those today? You could argue life brings it our way and in many ways it does, but evidence shows most of us are oblivious to those reminders over and over again.
You could also argue it has to begin at home, a point of view I agree with entirely, however that perspective assumes the parents are equipped to instil self-leadership and moral fibre into their offspring when it’s very likely no one’s instilled it in the parents. You can’t give what you don’t have. Parents are products of their environments too. The parental blueprint they model is largely shaped by the one they experienced. Some had it good. Most did not. And if the percentage of adults who take self-improvement and personal growth seriously today is anything to go by, anyone holding their breath for a radical improvement in the quality of self-leadership in the generation to follow is heading straight to the undertaker.
Then there’s the diabolical shortcomings of our education system. Firstly, too many parents abscond responsibility for character development in their children to an education system ill-equipped to do it. The priorities are completely the wrong way around. There’s too little emphasis on self-leadership, attitudinal matters and character development and far too much emphasis on the intellectual comprehension of often irrelevant and unnecessary academic matters. The model on which our education system is built is woefully equipped to prepare young people effectively for the rigours of life in the “real” world.
Tragically the political powers that be, products of the same flawed educational model, seem hell bent on only intensifying the drive for academic prowess at the expense of self-leadership. The prevailing consensus still remains fixated on IQ, a flawed industrial-age measurement of human capability that’s so limited and outdated and largely irrelevant in the information age, it should have been confined to the annals of history over twenty years ago. There’s little to no sign of self-leadership in the national curriculum. Head Teachers are subject to increasingly draconian measures all focused on academic output, rather than being given the opportunity to equip young lives with the necessary self-awareness to lead themselves effectively.
Worse still, a large proportion of parents fervently resist any proposed changes to the existing education model because they’re so invested in believing the education model they are products of is the most effective education of all.
It isn’t. Just one look at their own results should tell them that but I guess it’s hard to see the picture when you’re in the frame and if you’ve done very little self-improvement in your own life, you’re not going to appreciate just how imperative it is to the success of your kids.
The truth is success in the real world isn’t the same as success in the academic world. Out here it isn’t about what you know, it is about who you are. One thing’s for sure, if we’re to wait and lobby political leaders and policymakers to wake up, smell the coffee and modify a deeply-ingrained system, we’ll resign more generations to the implications of the same old system and the societal problems we face will only intensify.
Ghandi once said, “be the change you seek in the world”. When faced with a desperately needed, yet monolithic task like shifting the existing paradigm of the masses, the politicians they vote for and a flawed system they’re all heavily invested in protecting, you have to do what you can where you can to make a difference.
Christian Simpson is the UK’s leading coach and mentor to business owners and entrepreneurs. For COMPLIMENTARY ACCESS to tried, tested and proven entrepreneurial success strategies, click here