Wednesday 9th June, 2003



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Education in human relations

By Lennox Powder

Education for living has immeasurable potential for transforming the world. But education has not been adequately engaged to impact on the diverse range of situations encountered in everyday life. Many matters crucially important to personal and social life are nowhere included on structured education’s agenda and are deprived of education’s profound enlightenment.

Our best efforts have been directed at preparation for earning a living, which is, undoubtedly, an extremely important function of education. But as we well know, there is much more to living than earning a living. True, many other conventional facets of education have experienced impressive progress, even creative revolutions, over the years.

But, tragically, some very important responsibilities of education are not even recognised as the business of education, far less given deserved attention in any organised way. Any attention received has been incidental via ad hoc, informal sources.

It is instructive to consider some life situations that are generally excluded from the influence of education, but which positively belong to education’s “unconventional curriculum,” intended for delivery in the “laboratory of life” by way of lessons best described as “educated” approaches to everyday things.

And, make no mistake, there are “educated” ways of relating to people, driving cars, washing dishes, practising family life, participating in sports, handling tragedies, etc. This article deals with one important item of that neglected agenda: the role of education in human relations.

Even in our materialistic times, it is appreciated that personal and social well being depends significantly on the quality of human relations among members of families, residents of neighbourhoods, co-workers, fellow students, business associates, etc.

Much personal hurt, family distress and social disharmony result from conflict and unresolved relationship issues. Many psychological and physical ailments, including a range of lifestyle illnesses, are caused or exacerbated by hurt, anger, tension, conflict and the resultant hatred and bitterness.

Yet, whether it is a vehicular accident, domestic dispute, disagreement between neighbours or co-workers, the popular “solution” tends towards either brazen aggression or calculated coldness.

Aggression includes loud, abrasive tantrums, full-scale “cuss-out” or physical combat.

Coldness involves abrupt cessation of communication (“not talking”) with each side enlisting its own circle of sympathisers. Then pride takes over. Each side avows its contempt for the other and its resolve not to “bow” first, in a shameful display of “standard one” pettiness.

Both approaches are counterproductive exhibitions of weakness, cowardice and evasion. What is the alternative?

If our liberal endowment with the capacity for reasoning and communication distinguishes us from the “lower” animals, should we not readily use these strengths in our day-to-day affairs?

In a world frighteningly scarce on goodwill, every effort should be made to build, preserve and restore friendships by pursuing the truly courageous course of dealing with human affairs on high moral ground, employing the powerful instruments of sober reason and constructive communication.

The motive must always be genuine interest in human welfare and co-operation, never ulterior; the modus operandi: perseverance and resilience tempered by sensitivity, discretion and measured enthusiasm.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, genuine initiatives to advance or salvage relationships demonstrate maturity and charity, not humiliation or grovelling. Forgiveness and reconciliation constitute not just sound social policy, but powerful personal therapy as well.

What does all of this have to do with education? Well, with human relations ruptures so commonplace and the resultant tension and social disharmony so distressing, evidently these experiences do exact a high social price, no doubt “setting up” some of the violence and supposed crimes of passion taking place.

So managing or mediating relationship issues is a dire social need. And what better instrument than education for counteracting the whole slew of mistaken ideas, inverted thinking, prejudices, malice, etc which underlie conflict, and for fostering the corresponding antidotes?

Education is the human enterprise best suited for unveiling the “uncommon sense” required for navigating life’s challenges.

Education must be engaged for:

Disseminating important lessons about self-control, prudent judgment, brotherly love, co-operation, courtesy.

Deploring aggression, “coldness” and fighting the world on its own terms.

Demonstrating the triumphant power or humility, tolerance and conciliatory approaches.

Extolling the moral courage and magnanimous spirit of the peace maker.

Denouncing pride, stubbornness and conceit which mistake humility for humiliation and meekness for weakness.

It is revealing to contrast the tremendous progress made in utilitarian matters (building computers, flying planes, cooking meals, etc) against our abject stagnation in the area of interpersonal relations. Fifty years and several impressive professional and other achievements later, many adults remain stuck in “standard one” behaviour, being no less disposed to childish squabbles but now further afflicted by adult intransigence.

It is widely acknowledged today that our thinking (thought life) is a major determinant of our spiritual, emotional and physical well being, and is therefore a significant factor in the quality of our relationships: “As a man thinks, so is he.”

Thus, the “renewal of the mind,” from the unhealthy mindset of conventional wisdom to the ideals of true wisdom, must be the ultimate therapy. Renewal is accomplished through moral and spiritual education based on the word of God—no deference here to secularism; the truth must be told.

Transformational education must discredit and debunk many myths of western culture while promoting the universal and timeless absolutes based on the truth, as distinct from any rendering of mere facts. Such gems of wisdom as loving one’s “enemies,” forgiving over and over, walking the extra mile are the stuff through which metamorphoses are accomplished.

While education thrives within the corridors of the conventional and the intra-mural, everyday life spins out of control for lack of education’s intervention.

The world can be a much better place if human issues benefit from our distinctive human strengths and the formidable human enterprise of education. We may even succeed in justifying our claim to being the most intelligent of creatures for reasons (as was famously said) other than the fact that no other creature has yet contested the claim.






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