Grappling with difference from an early age

I have a lot to thank my friends for, and – in common with most people, I would imagine – I am deeply grateful for many of them for sticking with me through thick and thin. My longest serving (I use the phrase advisedly …) friend in this respect, B, came to stay with me recently, and despite the fact that we calculated that we hadn’t seen one another at all for about 6 years, there were times during the days we spent together that I can honestly say that I felt again the joy of being 7 years old – what a lot of laughter! What funny memories of adventures and mishaps! I mourned when she left, even though we both had pressingly busy lives to go back to, which we had (mostly) put on hold for these few days.

One insight I had during our time together really made me think about the nature of identity and self, because I found myself in a moment of deja vu which took me back instantly through the decades. I was busy and happily bustling to organise for us to go on an outing, while she appeared – as ever – serene and calm. ‘As ever’ – how true of our relationship! ‘Tis thus and always ‘twas thus …’ This insight struck home with me, and I checked in with her, to make sure: “I was always like this, wasn’t I?” “You were”, she said, and, like the 7 year olds we had once been, we giggled. I took her affirmation as a compliment – I very much value the child within, and I am also glad to have led a coherent and authentic life which has enabled me to draw out who I have always been. It is enormously reassuring and uplifting to realise, with the help of the eyes of others, that you already are doing what you are meant to do …

Another powerful insight hit me too, however, and I realised how grateful I was to B for another reason. The thing is … we are very different in many, many ways, although with elements of similarity, more so than perhaps we really knew at the time, but which manifested themselves to some extent in our chosen life calling of education. I remember, though, now that my memories have been rekindled, how I would often feel perplexed about what and why B did and thought as she did, as it wasn’t always what I would have done, and I know that she taught me that there were subtly different ways of viewing the world and different ways to have fun. She was one of the first people who really taught me about the value of grappling with difference in relationships, and of growing through the process. I am enormously grateful to her – and for her continued friendship even when I must have perplexed her in equal measure with what might well have seemed at times like rather odd perspectives on life. What a star she was (and is)!

If our children and young people are to have any chance of developing the global competence they need in the world, they need to learn to grapple with difference – and the earlier, the better. Friendships with people who are different from them are a beautiful way in which to explore and develop their own sense of self and identity, and learn to value that of others. As parents and educators, let us do our very best to encourage this.

Coming soon from Dr Helen Wright – a new book: The Globally Competent School: a manual. Publication: October 2019


    • Jemma on September 16, 2019 at 11:41 am
    • Reply

    I loved reading this piece Helen. It reminded me of the friendship I have with my oldest (?!) pal starting back when we were 13. You reminded me how important these long friendships are and even though our lives are SO busy we must still make time for them. As you show, these relationships are so grounding and they remind us of the person we really are, and who we were always meant to be.
    I’m going to write to my friend now and see if between running businesses, managing households and with 6 kids between us, we can get a date in the diary – it’s been 2 years since the last get together!

      • hmw on September 23, 2019 at 4:56 pm
      • Reply

      Thank you, Jemma – this is so lovely to read! Enjoy it!!

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