Feeling like a victim
Recently, I was invited to give a talk at a leading girl's school, about How To Change The World.
The day beforehand, I called the deputy head and asked for a really clear idea about what outcome she wanted, so that I could design something that would suit. Here's my handwritten note.
The day came…
I was not met by the deputy head I had spoken to – she had a parent meeting to deal with – but by another.
I've had that happen before, and it doesn't usually work out well – it's just so much better if the audience is warmed up by somebody who knows the speaker, even a little, and can introduce accordingly.
So what happened?
Seven-hundred girls filed silently into place, most of them sitting on the floor. While others came in, they remained very still, and quiet. Teachers took their place in chairs around the walls.
“Please welcome JP Flintoff, who is going to talk about How To Change The World.”
I remember thinking, wow, it's a bit dead in here. But I pushed the idea from my mind, determined to liven things up.
I moved the lectern, and the mic stand, and I started talking…
As usual, I created a bit of audience interaction immediately – asking questions that needed a raised hand if people a) came to school on public transport, b) had a pet, and so on.
I talked a bit more, did a bit more interaction. Noticed that the people at the back, and teachers around the side, didn't join in.
I said they were welcome to, if they liked.
The younger girls, towards the front, became quite lively during the interactive bits, and there was even one moment when they didn't quieten down immediately, which I enjoyed a lot.
I'm quite happy to wait, and have a few tricks to bring people back to silence.
But before I could use them, teachers started shusshing.
What did I talk about? Well, I mentioned ideas I've shared many times, over the five or more years since How To Change The World was published.
Like: Viktor Frankl, author of Man's Search For Meaning… I told stories about him, and his experiences in Auschwitz.
I attempted to put into simple terms his idea that having a sense of meaning and purpose is vital.
I said that if prisoners made it their purpose to hustle for more soup, they might get some. If they didn't, they probably wouldn't.
Later (in relation to starting any world-changing initiative) I said that one person always has to go first, and others will soon follow…
…but alas I gave a pretty stupid example of that.
I said the girls might have noticed, when waiting to cross the nearby main road, that everybody waits – even when there's no traffic in sight – but that once the first person puts a foot forward, others usually cross too.
It was stupid, because at the end of the talk the deputy head rushed forward to give everybody a caution to ALWAYS observe traffic signals.
I apologised, said he was absolutely right.
The girls filed out.
The following day, I sent an email to the deputy head I'd originally spoken to, asking for feedback.
She replied with a note spelling out my traffic blunder, then this:
Reading it, I felt shaken. I sent an immediate apology about the traffic, offered to talk on the phone about the other thing.
Suddenly, I'm the guy who thinks people who died at Auschwitz deserved it.
I went for a walk, made a coffee, thought about it. Looked up Frankl on YouTube…
…and eventually came up with this additional reply.
I've not heard back yet (this is still very fresh).
Here, for your benefit, is that video. I've set it to start at 8 mins 25 secs:
If you want to watch the whole thing, be my guest: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asZcSJWCBPk
I don't want to be “right”, or “win the argument”. I just wanted to write something about what happened.
I'm noticing that after getting this feedback I felt like a victim.
So I'm trying to impose a bit of meaning here, and claim some agency.
If you've been good enough to read this far, take what you like, and leave the rest behind…
…as I probably should have said to that group of teachers and students.
POSTSCRIPT. Not having heard back from the school, I chased the woman who originally invited me, asking her to confirm she'd received my emails. She replied:
I feel pretty miserable. I hope the feeling passes soon.