The 4th R

The 4th R

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“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”   – Viktor E. Frankl

If ever there were a quote that highlighted one of the main opportunities for growth in every human being, it is this one. Because responding usefully to what happens to us is key to living a better life in a better society.

I recently took part in a Life Skills workshop run by two Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapists, which has reinforced my determination to transform the education system.

What interested me about this innovative workshop is the way in which experience used to turn around the very worst mental health cases can, and should, be applied to the education curriculum.

Helping people to develop life skills should be at the core of an educational revolution, to turn the tide on the exploding mental health epidemic in the West.

At the moment, much of the curriculum’s focus is on knowledge acquisition and the regurgitation of facts. Very little of it is concerned with acquiring the skills necessary to thrive in life.

Disturbingly, there is very little evidence that the increasing focus on academic rigour is delivering anything for society. The evidence actually suggests that there is very little correlation between academic success and actual success.

By far the greatest determinant of life success is emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour. Emotional intelligence is something we don’t proactively develop in our children and it is not a focus for most adults, either.

It astounds me that we aren’t taught how to use our brain at school, since its characteristics prevent many of us from thriving. Our brain is not logical and rational for much of the time; yet we build pretty much all we do in society on the assumption that it is.

And the funny thing is, we can do things differently if we try. I recall my trip last year to the innovative Blue School in New York, where they are teaching 3 year olds neuroscience, to great success. I am sure that this raises many eyebrows, because it challenges many people’s notions of children’s learning capabilities; but it seems ridiculous that we don’t teach everyone how their brain works when they first start using it, since it drives each decision we ever make.

Can you imagine being allowed to drive a car on your own without first being taught how to use it? No. But we seem to think it perfectly acceptable to do that with the human mind.

And this leads me back to Victor E. Frankl’s quotation at the beginning. Our society is built on impulse, and it is impulse that lies at the foundation of most of the problems we have in society. If we are truly going to transform society and our own lives as a whole, we must first start to recognise that there is a ‘skill of skills’ for all of us to develop.

In that tiniest of gaps between stimulus and response, in all of our minds, lies the opportunity to transform ourselves and humanity.

Acquiring the skill to choose the responses we make is the skill that everyone should be learning.

Along with the 3 Rs (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic), they missed an R that is even more fundamental to helping us all thrive in life – that R is: Response.

I would love to know your ‘response’ to this. Share your stories in how acquiring these kinds of skills has transformed your life.


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  1. Tony Trenker says

    Oh man you’re so right there. I do hope we can better educate our kids and adults likewise – you’re never too old to learn eh. I think so little effort is required to teach the core skills you refer to, and yet the lifelong benefits can be astounding. It may even help with world peace!

  2. As usual Marc your thoughts are absolutely fantastic. Can’t agree more… Cheers!!! Ramesh

  3. Augustine Inogbo says

    Thanks Marc, you are on point. It is unfortunate that the Educational Curricular of yester-years have led to knowledge acquisition and the regurgitation of facts, instead of acquiring the skills necessary to thrive in life.
    It is really worrisome seeing the rate of people’s failures in Life Affairs due to inadequate skill sets.

    I share your concern and I believe that the time for Revolution is now!

  4. Hey Marc,

    Great, I use that same quote when teaching Mindfulness in Schools. I think a shift is coming but not quick enough!

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Totally agree Marc. How many times have I wondered, why on earth isn’t this EQ stuff taught in schools?

    It would prepare youngsters so much more for the world that they now have to inhabit.

    We love being involved with a charity called Inner Flame which helps kids to discover their inner potential through their life skills programmes. They do our half-day programme at the beginning of the week and just 4 days later we always see an incredibly positive transformation in virtually all of the participants.

    I have come across local companies teaching EQ in schools, but of course it’s the independent schools that can afford it – and it needs to be available to all.

  6. If we could all discipline ourselves to consider our responses for a moment before acting we would probably make better choices, get into less trouble & be happier.
    As my grandmother used to say ‘self control is the key to sovereign power’ !

  7. mamokhethi says

    Its a good idea to teach children first how brain works before they can use it. As most of us don’t even use it to its capacity. Thank you for sharing this post.

  8. Hi Marc,

    This year has been most probably the toughest year of my life and too often life became just about manageable. Many unpleasant outside forces were thrown at us and there were a few (who I truly believed were solid friends, the kind who I thought genuine and would be there come what may), during an extremely upsetting time that alas weren’t. I was advised to have no expectations and to perhaps spare a thought for them as they too have issues (but don’t we all) but I still find that difficult to grasp as a true friend will just be there. I would be there for a true friend whatever my situation – at least I would do what I could. Always.
    My point being, I have learnt with time and daily meditation and practicing mindfulness and responding instead of reacting has had a massive positive impact on not just me but my family too who also practice mindfulness. Both my children have taken a course in mindfulness and it was invaluable for them and helped them through a very difficult time. They too needed to learn not to react to negativity nor to have expectations and that way there is no room for disappointment, (a tough lesson for kids but they seem to get it) and that it is far healthier to respond or indeed not respond at all and just let it go.
    Consider your responses always before acting!! Makes for a happier outcome. And far less agro.

    Thanks for allowing me to share, if a little lengthily 🙂


  9. Elizabeth says

    Hello Marc

    Thank you for posting. Victor Frankl was a wise man who learned what mattered in the harshest possible environment. ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ is worth reading in its entirety.

    You might also like ‘Buddha’s Brain’ by Rick Hanson.

    As a counsellor, mother and all round human being I agree with your observations. I am glad that this way of perceiving human development is beginning to take root.


    • I have read and been inspired by Victor Fankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

      Thank you for the other suggestion. I will add it to my reading list.


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