I hear the words ‘creativity’ and ‘happiness’ a lot in the context of parents’ desired outcomes of school environments. Who wouldn’t want these traits for their children? While the words are different- creativity a skill, happiness a state of being- some recent reading has reminded me of the importance that challenges and discomfort have to play in creative success and, perhaps, a sense of happiness.
Wharton business professor and author Adam Grant’s recent article Kids Would You Please Start Fighting in The New York Times reminds us that “Disagreement is the antidote to groupthink. We’re at our most imaginative when we’re out of sync. There’s no better time than childhood to learn how to dish it out — and to take it….We develop the will to fight uphill battles and the skill to win those battles, and the resilience to lose a battle today without losing our resolve tomorrow.”
Grant suggests framing disagreements as debates. I love this, as St. Clement’s believes strongly in the importance of debating and public speaking both curricularly and co-curricularly. Our students from Grades 1-12 learn how to frame persuasive arguments to present their ideas- whether to their class, their grade, the School, or peers and colleagues beyond our walls. This skill is fundamental for the girls not only in forming their own beliefs and perspectives but also in nurturing their ability to hear the perspectives of others.
We recognize that wading through issues can feel uncomfortable. Nonetheless, because we are confident that the process helps our girls to learn and grow, we make it an integral part of their learning. Further, we ensure that our students recognize the importance of diverse opinions and ideas, which means there cannot always be agreement. However, the resulting complexity and lack of a ‘party line’ can prove difficult in a society that appears- in many ways- to be trying to protect people from unhappiness and discomfort.
Ruth Whippman’s book America The Anxious: Why Our Search for Happiness Is Driving Us Crazy and How to Find It for Real is a powerful and thought-provoking read. Whippman addresses society’s relentless desire for happiness and, in particular, calls into question the notion that each individual is responsible for their own well-being. She reflects on a number of contributing factors including the lucrative ‘business’ of self-help, the integration of work and play, and the pressures of being the ‘perfect’ parent. It was, however, her thoughts about social media that resonated the most for me and reminded me of Grant’s article and the benefits of discomfort.
Whippman suggests that social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, created with opportunities to only ‘like’ or ‘love’ posts results in ‘rinsing news of challenge and complexity.” She goes on to explain that, “Real-world news events are usually complex and entrenched and uncomfortable, and one of the responsibilities of good journalism is to expose and challenge this. Negativity may be a bummer, but genuine critical thinking and analysis can’t happen without it. But in a system in which like is the main driver of success, the schmaltzy and uplifting naturally rise to the top, and the complex, challenging, or uncomfortable grind to a halt.”
We must ensure that we continue to stretch our girls in their learning and growth- and this must be as a result of affording opportunities to consider the issues in their full complexity, to listen to and present opposing points of view, and to live with the tension that will follow when they abandon consensus.