To be a leader in education can be deeply challenging. Approaching relationships in schools with compassion and authenticity, when we are busy can be difficult. Asking questions that take us, and others, into unknown territory, even when you long for immediate stability is brave and necessary. Forming resilience for ourselves and within the teams we work with when all around suggests change is tiring.
One of the most dynamic and inspiring writers we know provides us with insight into every hero’s journey. The reason why Shakespeare’s play Hamlet is easily the most popular and most performed of all of his plays (with King Lear a close second) is because the play in general, and this speech in particular explores the four aspects of the human condition. The four things that all humanity has in common and that we all struggle with during our lives. For those that are able to create a life for themselves where they can truly ‘be’ then theirs is a life richly blessed. For those who find that, despite all their efforts things are ‘not to be’ then life is an endless, painful austerity.
Listen and hear Shakespeare's narrative in Hamlet: ‘To be or not to be.’ As the exchange progresses we can develop an understanding of needs that we all have that relate to our ability not only to cope as leaders, but to change and develop and take others with us on our complex journeys and appreciate how other people progress their own. Thereby we are provided beautiful sanctuary as leaders as well as advice and reason.. and a call to action...
The first human condition: The need to question
“To be or not to be, that is the question?”
To be what was a leader? To be brave, energetic, creative, open, motivated? To be sincere, trustworthy? To be here, now doing your best even if that doesn’t seem good enough.
Polonius gives us the answer in his advice to Laertes “To thine own self be true”
How many of us maintain our niceness at risk of not asking the question!? Leaders need to ask the right question.
Second human condition: The need for relationships
“The heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”
Someone is out there bullying in schools. In the classroom yes. But in the staff room too. People who get teachers to do stuff that teachers just don’t want to do.
And even aside from the violence of bullying, compassion is vital if we are to support educators to support young people. To be compassionate is to listen, not just be a leader with power and an ego.
Polonius responds... “neither a borrower nor a lender be”
Our relationships with others is vital and we need to focus on the important things that make that relationships within our workplace rich and effective - and human. Leaders need to be mindful of their place within relationships and their shared responsibility to nurture their own and other relationships.
Third human condition: The need for life-force
“Who would these fardels bare. To grunt and sweat under a weary life”
How do we have the confidence to really be creative, to really teach and learn? And how as leaders can we maintain ourselves daily, with vision for ourselves and our schools? We need resilience. It is noble to work as a leader in school, it is hard. A weary life indeed.
Fourth human condition: The need to see results
“Enterprises of great pith and moment”
Who are we and what do we have to offer to the world? Surely there is more to life than getting through it? We need to see what comes of our courage, our relationships and the bold and small actions we take. We need to see the results of our labour. This in turn, reminds us of what we can be when we listen to our human condition and take the steps to fulfil who we are.
“Lord we know what we are, but not what we might be”
In my work with adults, young people and children I draw inspiration from playwrights, thinkers and authors such as Shakespeare and Socrates, Marlow and Plato to show that the human condition is nothing new. The pain and suffering, joy and dreams that we have now are the same, in essence of those of our ancestors. We have much to learn from our past. Shakespeare, is a particular favourite of mine. And this speech by Hamlet really does capture that shared joy and pain that in later years psychologists, in particular Carl Jung, have highlighted as four personality types or the four things that make up the human condition. Ahead of his time? But perhaps more usefully Shakespeare is of all our times.
For more on Hamlet take a look at this talk from TEDxSquareMile where I and a volunteer perform Hamlet and talk through the hero's struggle that we can probably all relate to.