An Ananda child, five years old, once accompanied her mother to a laundromat in nearby Nevada City. There, the two of them saw another woman angrily scold her little boy for some trivial peccadillo. The Ananda child turned to her mother in amazement and asked in a whisper, “Why is that mommy behaving so badly?”
I posed two questions in the last chapter that might be restated thus: First, Can the “Education for Life” system, developed in a little community near the western edge of the North American continent, prove useful to schools in the crowded mainstream of modern life? and second, How can the children raised there ever expect to relate realistically, once they grow up, to this Twentieth Century world?
In this book we have defined maturity as the ability to relate to realities other than one’s own. Is it not necessary, in the light of this definition, to test children’s ability to relate to those realities — indeed, to familiarize the children with them?
The astonishment of that Ananda child on beholding a grown woman lose her temper argues an unfamiliarity with a reality to which most Americans have become inured. Is it good, one wonders, for a child to be removed so completely from every-day, though regrettable, realities?
In short, how does a child who has been raised in an atmosphere of love and harmony handle himself when confronted suddenly with anger and disharmony? Will he not find himself at a serious disadvantage, compared with people to whom selfishness and negativity are simple facts of life?
The image comes to my mind here of someone setting out to read every book ever written in an effort to master all human knowledge. The task would, of course, be impossible. And even if it were possible, our brains were never made to assimilate such an ocean of information.
The worldly sophisticate, priding himself on the number of books he has read and the number of facts he can recall instantly to mind, can do little more than skate over the frozen surface of reality.
Maturity, defined as the ability to relate to the realities of others, doesn’t necessarily imply a need to go hunting for an endless number of such realities to which to relate. The more mature an individual, in fact, the more poised he will be in himself — not selfishly, but like a wheel that is perfectly balanced at its center. The less he will be inclined, therefore, to go out in search of a fulfillment outside himself.
Maturity means, among other things, a state of inner equilibrium, in which nothing can shake one’s poise. Only in such a state of balance can a person relate effectively to a wide variety of realities, however foreign they may be to his own actual experience of life.
All of us have sometimes to deal with negative emotions in ourselves. It isn’t as though anger, fear, belligerence, and other human weaknesses were as foreign to us as the corona around the sun. A calm school and home atmosphere, and an education focused on raising a child to emotional maturity, make it easier for the child to deal with that negativity in himself. It isn’t that his negativity is banished to non-existence. Rather, he learns to meet it with an open mind and overcome it.
Once negativity in oneself has been dealt with, rather than merely indulged in, it becomes easier to deal with it objectively in any encounters one has with others. The best way to deal with anger, for example, is not to shout back and lose one’s temper, but to meet it with unshakable calmness. That person who is poised in himself is invincible. Others defer to him; often, in his presence, they shelve their anger.
I have referred in this book to expanding awareness as one of the goals of maturity. One might compare this expansion to the broad base of a pedestal. A pedestal that has a broad base cannot easily be toppled over. The more expanded a person’s awareness, similarly, the more difficult it is for anyone or any circumstance to upset him.
And who is capable of handling himself effectively under any circumstance: the person who is easily upset by everything? or the one who remains calm in every storm?
As Rudyard Kipling wrote:
If you can keep your head when all men round you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,…
Then you’re a man, my son.
The Education for Life system taught at Ananda schools prepares children to meet challenging situations in another way also. For what one expects from others is very often what one ends up receiving from them. If we doubt others’ good faith, even the best of them may be tempted to justify our negative expectations of them by challenging our good faith. But if, on the other hand, we believe in them, even the worst of them may do what they can to justify our belief.
Kindness, good will, a spirit of cooperation, and similar positive traits, if manifested with energy, are magnetic; they usually attract from others a response in kind. Even where a positive response is not forthcoming from others, moreover, the harmful effect of a negative response on oneself is invariably minimized.
The “Education for Life” system proves its validity under the most adverse circumstances. It is practical. It is not a system for the few only — for the isolated, or the “spiritual”: It is for everybody. Whether one lives in the mountains or in city slums, its principles are practicable everywhere.
The question remains: How to adopt this new system?
As we pointed out in the last chapter, it would be simplest, at first, to incorporate an “Education for Life” system into small, private schools. For it is best for those launching a new concept in education to have to deal with a minimum of entrenched attitudes.
It might even be preferable to start out afresh, with new Ananda schools. Such branches might provide the shortest distance between two points: a straight line from the idealistic intention to the practical fulfillment.
Many of the ideas in this book, however, though perhaps difficult to incorporate in their entirety into already-existing situations, might be introduced slowly — perhaps one, or just a few, at a time. Much might be accomplished, in fact, in quite a number of suburban communities, for example — especially the smaller ones — if the people living there were sufficiently desperate to embrace a change.
A visit to Ananda schools would be an obvious way to begin the process. First-hand observation is always more instructive than hearsay.
There is also another possibility: A byproduct of Ananda School’s administration is a team of advisors on the “Education for Life” system. One function of these advisors, known collectively as “Education for Life Associates,” is to travel wherever they are invited and give classes and seminars in the principles outlined in this book, as well as to suggest ways in which these principles might be incorporated, whether wholly or in part, into other school systems.
If even a few communities in America succeed in adopting these principles, a notable start will have been made toward solving some of the deepest problems facing us in American society today.