“What theme is important in your life?”

Our Grade 9 + 10 English class has been exploring the themes of the novel, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. We have worked in small groups to develop a better understanding of the novel, the characters, and the themes (See the previous post for evidence).In next week’s assignment, they are being asked to write a blog post in which they consider the implication of one of those themes in their lives today. (The posts will appear here).

There are many themes in this 1930’s novel: Discrimination of race, of gender, of people with disabilities, of the elderly; people who have few choices and little hope (bondage of the body, mind, or spirit); bullying, what is it like to be bullied, what causes a bully, euthanasia and assisted suicide; jealousy in a marriage; the need for relationships with others and the difficulty of those relationships; life in the Great Depression, a life of scarcity which seems to evoke loneliness and fear of others (currently youth unemployment in Canada is around 15% and globally it is often described with words like “crisis’); there is also compassion; and the “dream” which often encourages one to reach beyond the current circumstances and to strive for a better world, a world of purpose and meaning, and more.

One student asked an excellent question – very powerful asking good questions – she asked: “What theme is important in your life?” Imagine asking the teacher to actually do the assignment, or at least consider the question.

So here is my answer.

“Leadership is communicating people’s worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.” Stephen R. Covey .

This quote is included as part of the introduction of this blog. It is also on the wall in our downstairs family room, a perfect gift from a good friend. It reminds me, every time I look at it, of my purpose and what I need to focus on.

While discussing the book, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, we spoke of the implications of being in ‘bondage‘. There are characters who are physically limited in where they can go and what they can do – such as Crooks and Curley’s Wife. However, the tragedy of the book lies in the bondage of the minds and spirits of the characters. The circumstances of that era, the Great Depression, the attitude towards blacks, women, the elderly, the handicapped, the view of life is made real in the minds of the people. They believe in it. The hopelessness is repeated verbally a number of times in the novel, and summed up near the end by George: “I think I knowed from the very first. I think I knowed we’d never do her. He usta like to hear about it so much I got to thinking maybe we would.” This is what is being repeated in the minds of the characters over and over – there is no way out!

Freedom, true freedom, is in the heart and mind of a person. It is in their belief system. What is it they really believe about themselves at the very core of their being? The voices in each one of our heads are simply echoes of what we believe – most of it untrue.

How do you change the voices? How do you change the belief system? No one can change someone else’s belief system. But, awareness can be created. Seeds can be planted. If a nurturing encouraging environment can be created where the individual feels safe to be creative, to find their voice, to try new things, and mostly, feel safe to fail and try again – then, maybe, change begins. It is not an easy road. Confidence, self-esteem, and belief is won through continuous effort and arriving at the point of ‘knowing’ that I can, because I have done it!

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

In the novel, in a world of scarcity and fear, the end of the novel could never be a happy one. Each one of us helps to create the world we live in. If we uplift and encourage others, praise effort, and look for the best in each other, we will begin to see a world that amazes us. Be the change!

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