It may sound like something out of Dr Who but, if anything, the Ego-sphere is the polar opposite of the Tardis. It might look pretty big from the outside but it’s an extremely limited dimension when you are stuck inside it. So what are we talking about here? Well, it’s an alternative reality, a sort of hyper-space in which the only thing that shifts faster than the speed of light is the individual’s attention span. Unfortunately, it is inhabited by many (though certainly not all!) of our teenagers and can result in them becoming so disengaged from reality that they often fail to make the grade, both educationally and socially.
Considering the cocoon of self- indulgence that a significant number of children are brought up in by our society – heavily protected rights, scarcely enforced responsibilities – this is hardly surprising. Nor is it surprising that a European table of children’s well-being published in 2009 ranked the UK 24th out of a total of 29 countries.
The factors highlighted as responsible for this lamentable situation were mainly socio-economic. However, as any sane psychiatrist could tell you, extreme ego-centricity, especially when combined with a reluctance to engage in any productive activity, is a guaranteed recipe for personal unhappiness. If you give no real meaning to your life, then it stands to reason that your life will have no real meaning.
So, can our children be rescued from the Ego-Sphere and helped to get safely back down to planet Earth?
Well, at one time, the solution to the twin evils of egotism and indolence was religion … which is perhaps why students from more traditionalist countries tend to be more educationally dynamic and socially productive than many of our own youth. But in an increasingly materialistic society, in which the national concern is not spiritual advancement but the pursuit of so-called ‘material well-being’, the remedy may lie in how we approach the teaching of such humanities subjects as English.
Of course, this is not a new idea, but it is well-worth a revisit. As Matthew Arnold declared well over a century ago:
“Good poetry does undoubtedly tend to form the soul and character; it tends to beget a love of beauty and truth in alliance together; it suggests, however indirectly, high and noble principles of action, and it inspires the emotion so helpful in making principles operative.”
So, next time we are studying a text prescribed by some examination board, and preparing for some lofty assessment task that requires a dry academic analysis via Point, Evidence and Explanation, let’s also try to remember that great literature affords a profound insight into human nature – both that of ourselves and of our fellow human beings. It may sound dreadfully old-fashioned, but it teaches the difference between right and wrong by frequently portraying tragic life outcomes based on the poor decisions made by self and others, outcomes which we would often do well to consider on a deeply personal level.
Perhaps, in between the hustle and bustle of exam preparation, we could find some time to encourage our students to really think themselves into a character’s situation and consider:
- What is the nature of my dilemma?
- How did I get here?
- Is it my fault I got into this mess?
- Can I get out of it without causing indefensible injury to somebody else?
- What harms have I caused?
- What kindnesses have I done?
- What do people think of me?
- Are their views justified?
- And, most importantly, has my life been of value?
Basically, it’s called empathy – the practice of regularly trying to view the world from another person’s perspective. And some sage advice to all of those imprisoned in their own oppressively limiting, very personal little Ego-spheres – and not all of them, by any means, teenagers … I’m no saint myself! – why not give it a try?