I will not let an exam result decide my fate

by James Maberly

Today, on facebook, I was sent a video clip of Suli Breaks giving a verbal chastisement of the exam regime in standard education.

Suli has a history of challenging the status quo in education. He recognises that much of what we are taught at school will not really be of much (if any) use to us in the years that follow. His video challenges the need to have to follow the stereotypical route we have set for us.

His brief at the top of his tumblr blog reads;

“Welcome to the University of Suli Breaks. There are many lessons to be had.

‘Education means inspiring someone's mind, not just filling their head’. - Katie Lusk.

“I will not let an exam result decide my fate”  - Vanity Fair 2009

What is important here is that he is not challenging education per se. Rather, he is saying that we need to re-examine the purpose of education in this new, technological age and review exactly how it should be practised in the future. I think this is a great challenge and the key point here is that it is a young person speaking, a representative of the current youth and those who will be following in years to come.

He advocates a healthy education but by that he means only learning what is relevant to the learner. This is an interesting point as this question arose in the case of the young American ‘genius’, Jacob Barnett. Jacob has surprised the world by having an IQ higher than that of Albert Einstein. It measures 189 on the Wechsler Intelligence scale for Children. Yet at age three, the Special Needs and Education experts were telling his mother that he would never read and that they would do their best to teach him very basic life skills so that he could at least cope, i.e. getting dressed in the morning.

Servant Leadership: a life philosophy or a state of being?

by James Maberly

Someone recently suggested that Servant Leadership is a life philosophy. I initially felt that that was correct, but on reflection I am not sure it is. I would put it beyond that. It is a state of being - it is who you/we are. It is not something created at the mental level - it is something inherent in each of us. Of course there is a huge chunk of society who chose to work at the mental level only and when blended with the ego, this becomes a potent and dangerous mix.

It seems to me that there are two big challenges: firstly, we have created a world in which the mind is King. The assumption is that everything is learnt, good or bad and that ultimately everything is governed by the mind. Secondly, how well or how badly we do at anything depends largely on the techniques we use to achieve them, whether on the sports field, in politics or in the office.

Recently, watching a tennis match in which my daughter was playing (aged 14), I was horrified to hear the opposite coach actively encouraging his young players to cheat. Thus the importance of winning has become more important than being a good and honest sports player and of course gives a very unfortunate message to the children. In a recent discussion amongst parents of children playing cricket, the discussion shifted to whether the players should ‘bad mouthe’ the opposite batsman whilst they were batting to lower their esteem and thus perhaps affect the standard of their games. ‘Why not?’ they asked. ‘They do it to our players.’

For me, this is all mental and as we all know, there are none so ruthless and selfish as parents of sporty children. My response to them was: ‘Are you so afraid that we will lose that you feel a need to pull the opposition down? Surely it would be so much better to congratulate them on their good play and encourage our own children to do the same? Indeed we should encourage our children to realise that if they wish to win, then they must ‘up’ their own game, learning from the opposition rather than pulling them down.

Nelson Mandela always treated everyone with the utmost respect. For example on

English: Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, Gaute...

Robben Island, when his lawyer George Bizos visited him, he always referred to his guards who led him through to the meeting as his ‘guard of honour’ and would take the time to introduce each one to Mr Bizos, treating them always with respect and as equals. Indeed, all of his old prison guards attended his inauguration as President – and they were all formerly players on the opposite team. But how does one engage those who see only from a limited mental perspective? I suggest it should be delivered in a way that engages them mentally, but it is also important to help them to enter the intuitive world of feelings. We need to help them to FEEL servant leadership. To reach in beyond the ‘philosophy’ and touch it, smell it, taste it and hear it. That has to be the starting point of true recognition and engagement.

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Mandela or Machiavelli?

by James Maberly

The death of Nelson Mandela has caused us all to reflect on the extraordinary achievements of a man who dedicated his life to the upliftment of his people. Despite spending 27 years as a prisoner of the state, he emerged as a man without bitterness. More than that, he welcomed the idea that blacks and whites could live and work with one another in a new South Africa and this vision helped him bring a divided nation together to support the  Springbok rugby team win the World Cup in 1995, so beautifully captured in the film ‘Invictus’. His incarceration had allowed his anger to mellow and he derived great wisdom from recognising that at base level, all of us have the same basic needs and desires.  His modus operandi became one of ‘mutual gain’. How could all the people of South Africa benefit from working together? Like Gandhi before him, he did not seek power: rather he sought to empower others: and we revere him for it.

In direct contrast to this, Alan Yentob recently hosted a programme on the BBC entitled ‘Who’s afraid of Machiavelli?’ In it, he examines the writings of Niccolò Machiavelli and through a series of interviews, reveals that despite the fact that it was written in 1513, at a time when power and brutality were the order of the day, many ambitious people today (particularly politicians) still consider this book to be their roadmap to success. It was bedtime reading for Mussolini, Napoleon and Stalin. That would not be surprising but what if I mention the names of Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Angela Merkel?


The Machiavellian approach is one of ensuring absolute control, where the end justifies the means. Violence and force are acceptable to stabilize power and eliminate political rivals and don’t forget to purge others who may be strong enough to challenge your position. It is about gaining and maintaining power at all costs. It proposes that moral corruption is an acceptable and necessary requirement to achieve stability and security. Alan Clarke, former diarist and politician once wrote “There are no true friends in politics. We are all sharks circling, waiting for traces of blood to appear in the water”:  a very Machiavellian approach.

So here we are in the 21st century, having just buried perhaps the most revered leader of our time who did not want or need the power he had and spent the latter part of his life empowering others, whilst at the same time, some of our most powerful leaders in this country and in others, both in politics and in business, see Machiavelli as their guide. Indeed several books have recently been published to bring this concept into the modern age.

Each of us has a deep question to answer; which of these men do we feel most comfortable with? Which would we most like to emulate?  It’s a question worth thinking about as we shift into a new and exciting era.

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