Wednesday, October 03, 2012

In a Motivational Mood

Continuing with my theme of the Olympics and Paralympics serving as motivators to those who for some reason psychologically feel unable to achieve something with their lives, I watched with interest as Professor Stephen Hawking opened the Paralympics with an opening ceremony designed to ‘celebrate the possibilities that lie within us all’, as the brief for the artistic directors was phrased. 

Tapping those inner possibilities is not something we are always good at; either as individuals or as adults with a responsibility to do precisely that in respect to our younger members of society. I still remember the moment my headmaster informed me that, in his opinion, I would never become a doctor. I could so easily have been discouraged at that first hurdle, spent my time at university reading the Classics and be running a bookshop by now. I could also have been dissuaded of my heart’s desire when, in the 4th year at medical school, a general surgeon pompously informed me that I was wasting my time by wanting to enter General Practice. Fortunately, my well-polished rebellious streak came to the fore on both occasions and I ploughed my own furrow with a focused determination.

However, not everyone can be so self-motivated. It is then that such reservations need to be overcome by those who recognise the untapped potential. It was with those thoughts in mind that I recently listened to BBC Radio 4’s programme ‘Lewis’s Return Home’. Based on the life of the writer Ted Lewis (author of the book behind the famous film, Get Carter), it told the story of how, when a pupil at the Grammar School in Barton upon Humber, Lewis was taken under the wing of his schoolmaster, Henry Treece. Treece, in his own right a celebrated poet and author, recognised the artistic talent within Lewis and persuaded both him and his parents that the Hull Art College was the place for Ted to go. From there, Ted Lewis began a writing career and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

The story was far different for Nicholas McCarthy. McCarthy only has one hand; he was born without his right hand. At school, his head teacher told him that ‘having one hand would always hold him back and it was better not to waste his and other people's time’. The comment was made in respect to McCarthy’s desire to learn the piano. Not to be daunted, McCarthy taught himself to play the keyboard. Last month he graduated from London’s prestigious Royal College of Music. Last week, he played as part of the paraorchestra, Britain’s first disabled orchestra. Next month he embarks on a tour as a concert pianist, starting with the Fairfield Halls in Croydon. (McCarthy’s remarkable story and the opportunity to watch and listen to him play can be found at

Teachers such as the headmasters both I and Nicholas McCarthy were exposed to have no place in the lives of children. Demotivation is the last thing young people need. Every child should have a Henry Treece at their elbow, seeing the hidden potential and driving them forward to achieve what is in their hearts and minds, regardless of the hurdles they might face along the way. ‘Celebrating the possibilities that lie within us all’ is what the London Paralympics was focused upon. It should become everyone’s mantra for life.

(First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Thursday, 6th September 2012)

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