Few figures in history have got a harsher rap than Mr Niccolo Machiavelli. In today’s language we use his name as a pejorative label for all the worst characteristics we see in leaders.

However, I believe he’s been harshly judged, especially when one considers the historical context of the time when he was writing. This was a man who understood that when you are in a position of power, or aspire to power (even if with the best of intentions), you’re going to catch dirt and cannot naively sit back and believe that the rest of the world will benignly orient itself around your goals.

The following is one of my favourite quotes from Machiavelli. Reading it I’m reminded so frequently of the benchmarks I always sought to apply when there were failures or mistakes in a team i was leading. What type of mistake was it? Was it a first, or was there a pattern? The last line is also a valuable reminder to me that I had better not ever be tempted to settle for self-pity or acceptance of status quo. It’s my life and my duty to do bold things with it. A ship is safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are built for.

I also believe that as educators we have to ensure that students spend time immersed in thoughtful contemplation on such writings, exploring their applicability in their own lives.  Only through the exploration of such ideas can they develop the inner compass that will equip them to thrive in a world that changes ever more rapidly.

“All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger
(it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively.
Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength
to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”

Niccolo Machiavelli
16th Century Philosopher


Hearing Loss

There are times in life when the situations where you’re saying, “I told you so,” give little cause for joy.

This is one of them. To me, it really wasn’t ever going to take a genius to figure out that the excessive and loud use of earbuds, headphones etc. was going to have very negative implications. Now, more and more, the evidence is coming out through research, and it’s really not good;

Half of all teenagers experiencing tinnitus and hearing damage, says new study

To me, this was really so obvious and predictable. I have also had concerns that excessive use of personal audio devices causes youngsters to cut themselves off from others and fail to engage and communicate with others, or really genuinely notice the world around them. Many mobile devices offer a warning about the risks of turning up the volume, but to many teenagers this is almost a fun challenge. When you’re a teenager (maybe especially a boy) we now know that the frontal lobes of the brain are not yet fully developed. They act as a counter-balance to the amygdala and regulate risk taking. When I was young the biggest risks came from occasional exposure attending concerts, clubs etc. where the music volume was very high. However, the difference here is that the music listening is for so many more hours a day and delivered directly in to the ears.

The challenge we face is talking to teenagers about the longer term risks of their actions all too often falls on deaf ears and fails to have the desired effect. Teenagers can rationalise to themselves that whatever they’re doing and whatever the risks, they’ll be lucky and unaffected. Sadly, the potential outcomes of such a game of Russian roulette are terribly risky.

I once knew someone who suffered quite extreme tinnitus. Its impact on her life was to interfere significantly with her sleep, her ability to concentrate on complex mental tasks and sometimes to be maddened by her inability to escape from the ringing tone in her ears. There is hope that some sufferers recover over time, but by no means all. Somehow, there’s an urgent need to find ways to reduce the risks. Maybe in this case the best route forward would be new rules that simply reduce the volume of personal listening devices.

Risk in Growing Up

There is no question that attitudes to risk for children have changed enormously in my lifetime. A recent survey suggested that British parents were amongst the most cautious and conservative when it came to what they permitted their children to do and what risks were perceived to be acceptable.

This story, understandably, has recently captured a lot of attention:

CS Monitor – Ban on Tag

We have to wonder – if educators are going to decide it’s unacceptably dangerous for children to play tag, then what other games from my childhood would be considered well beyond acceptable. Not only did we have many variations on tag (including kiss chase!), but we also had games like British Bulldog. I’ve seen one website that described that game as ‘brutal’ whilst many call for it to be banned. However, we loved that game. Whatever happened to sliding down steep slopes on tea trays or fixing ropes on tree branches over a river to swing on?

Did some of us get hurt? Of course we did. Scabby knees was almost a permanent state for me growing up. However, i believe that the benefits far outweighed any downside risks. We learned resilience, team skills and communication skills. We learned to handle defeat and victory with humility and good humour. That didn’t mean we cared any less about winning.

Are we in danger of eliminating so much that carries risk from our children’s lives that we turn childhood in to a sterile wait for adulthood, devoid of joy, energy and life?

I’d love to hear others’ views.

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