Our world is seriously amazing. Let me start off by stating that fact.
I recently watched an amazing BBC wildlife documentary about whales and the filmmakers who risk their lives to learn more about these graceful giants of the deep. I grew up watching these types of documentaries and the narrating voice of Sir David Attenborough can, even now, still send me back to my childhood days and a feeling of total security.
I love animals and find them fascinating beings. I think I have always felt a greater affinity towards animal-kind rather than human-kind. The words used to define our species felt so wrong to me.
Human-kind? When I begun to realize that I felt different to the outside world, kind would not have been a word that I would have associated with human.
But let me first tell you about where I grew up. This place has had a defining effect on the person I am today. I am the daughter of an artist, Marten Post, who was Head of Art at the United World College of the Atlantic in Wales. I grew up living on a campus where more than 350 students from 16 to 18 years of age from more than 80 different nations lived together, studied together and worked together. Students come from a wide spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds, cultures and creeds and many are accepted based on full scholarships.
The United World College (UWC) movement was inspired by a man called Kurt Hahn, an inspirational educator who believed in the innate ability in each child to make correct judgments about moral issues, no matter the situation they come from. He believed in education which called forth and developed the deepest qualities of character and compassion. After witnessing the First World War, this conviction only became stronger.
The UWC concept was conceived in the 1950’s at the height of the Cold War. Hahn believed that students aged between 16 and 18 would be grounded in their own cultures but still be impressionable enough to learn from one other. So much could be done to overcome religious, cultural and racial misunderstanding and avoid future conflicts if young people could be brought together.
I therefore grew up in an environment where differences were celebrated, compassion and helping others was the norm, your own personal responsibility and integrity was vitally important and where you were enveloped by a sense of idealism…one person can change the world.
The beautiful natural environment I grew up in was my reality. The celebration of being different was my ‘norm’. And then there was the outside world. Whilst looking back and examining my childhood, I realized something vitally important. I grew up in a society which was totally unrealistic when compared to the outside world. Whenever I left the safety of the college walls, say to go to school, I was confronted by a world in which differences were frowned upon and laughed at, compassion was few and far between and idealism was something that was practically non-existent in my fellow students.
At a young age I became very aware of my personal preference for which world I found to be the right one. And then I set about trying to bring some of that world into the outside one. I started up a school newspaper when I was 8yrs old, persuaded friends of my mothers’ to bake cakes to sell to college students and raise money for a local dogs home, and after seeing a children’s’ program about how African children were losing their sight because they could not afford eye surgery, I set up a stand at a crafts fair to raise money for the appeal.
I took to heart the concept of personal responsibility and tried to pass this onto others through my enthusiasm for life.
This taught me that it was possible to help people to care and have compassion for others.
But, I realize that my childhood concepts of compassion did not start off with humans, but with animals. I’ve always had a sense of right and wrong and hate it when I see an injustice happening, especially when the other being cannot speak out for themselves. Animals encounter this problem on a daily basis. We all know that. What I am saying is nothing new.
But I strongly believe that because I grew up with pets and animals around me, I was introduced to this hugely complicated concept ‘compassion’ in a way in which I could begin to understand it. If an animal cannot in the face of wrongdoing speak out for itself, then that is wrong. This concept transfers easily to humanity. If a human being is not able, for whatever reason, to speak out for him or herself in the face of wrongdoing, then that is not right. This may sound too simple, but I find the strongest concepts often are. Sometimes things in life are just that simple.
Compassion for another is one of the simplest concepts of the world, but one which can cause the most destruction if ignored.
So I leave you with a quote from Kurt Hahn, “there is more in you than you think”.
And remember, one person can change the world. Now let’s go do that!