The eighth habit

Stephen Covey’s death last week has sparked – quite rightly – a flurry of accolades for a man who has been described as a pioneer in the genre of self-help literature which aims to enable people to lead their best lives. His 1989 bestseller, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, subtitled ‘Powerful Lessons in Personal Change’, has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide. Whatever his personal and religious beliefs, with which many disagreed, there is no doubt that he was instrumental in making change happen for countless individuals. At his funeral, his children spoke warmly of his sense of humour and empathy, and it was clear that he was driven – positively and without taking himself too seriously – to make a real and personal difference amongst human beings in the world.

This was very much the tone of his sequel to ‘7 habits’ – his 1984 work called ‘The 8th habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness’. In it, he explained how being effective was not enough – we all need, in this age of information overload, to rise above mere competency and seek to ensure that whatever we did, it was with a greater goal in mind. “Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs”: this was his message, and it is in itself an inspiring one. It speaks to our need as a society to become more than a collection of individuals, and instead to recognise that we are all interrelated, and that our actions can and should affect positively those around us. We need to move beyond a self-restraining selfishness – or embarrassment – to realise that we all have something to offer the world, and that it is our duty and responsibility to do so.

Certainly, I feel that this is what we seek to communicate in school. In order to become fully themselves, our young people need to learn first who they are – to test themselves and stretch themselves to become the best of themselves; then, they must learn the courage to take the next step – a step which will see them making a strong and useful impact on the world. ‘Making the world a better place’ is an incredibly useful mantra for each and every young person. We just need to keep enabling them, empowering them, and reminding them … and let us not forget to remind ourselves to do the same.


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