I come from a family which valued academic knowledge and education. My mother and aunt were primary school teachers; my parents paid for me to go to a private school from the ages of eleven to eighteen. I was academically intelligent and won a place to Keble College, Oxford, at the age of eighteen; I became a teacher myself. Education and academic attainment have been a ‘normal’ way of life for me.
Yet I soon learned that emotional intelligence is at least as important as a good I.Q. (if not more so!) and that contentment has little to do with academic knowledge. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge. Living among people is the part of life which requires skills ‘book knowledge’ cannot teach.
Over the years I have learned to value diversity and practical skills, understanding that we all have different personalities and qualities and skills, and that there is room – indeed, necessity – for us all. The Bible makes this plain when describing the church as a body (Romans 12/ 1 Corinthians 12), and for me, true skill in life must understand and value community. No man is an island, even an introvert like myself, for whom people are, by and large, still a mystery!
Another valuable life lesson I have learned is the importance of the ordinary and the role of faithfulness in people’s lives. George Eliot wrote,
“The effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistorical acts, and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unvisited tombs.” (“Middlemarch”)
Many people live dissatisfied lives because they feel their lives lack achievement, fame or fortune. I would argue that to live faithfully a hidden life is in fact a significant achievement. To live well among people, to love faithfully and to be the person God made you to be is surely the definition of success.