Most children today have such a cosseted, undemanding life at home. In too many cases their every whim is pandered to. They become little Emperors, missing out only on the imperial purple. Instead they get designer clothes as a substitute. Naturally, they expect this child centred mollycoddling to continue when the day comes to begin their education, and in so many ways it does. If you have a cushy, spoiled, indolent life at home and school you are likely to carry this forward into the workplace.
The very first of life’s many disciplines is getting to school on time. Failure, only a little while ago, was almost unthinkable: it was hugely embarrassing and carried a substantial penalty. This sowed the first seeds of being a good timekeeper.
A few years back it was voguish to deride the Victorians and use them as a way of insulting people. Not anymore. We have come to an appreciation of their towering achievements; they had a work ethic that inspired the world and powered the Industrial Revolution. Recently I read a letter which had come to light from a 17-year-old Durham miner in the trenches of the western front in WWI. I was quite blown away by the literacy of the lad. Not only that, but the handwriting was almost a work of art: beautiful calligraphy. The poor lad almost certainly suffered from trench foot and would have had an army of lice crawling over him as he wrote that letter.
Then, on another occasion, I saw a paper of 20 questions which 11-year-olds, a little earlier, were expected to answer. Three of them were beyond me.
Right now in Singapore, India and China that very same sort of rigour is being applied in schooling. Go into an Indian classroom and you will think you have passed through a time warp. It is the very model of the classroom of their former rulers. They may have said their goodbyes to us, but they are not too proud to cherry pick the best we had to offer, including our wonderful language.
What great societies have to guard against is the soft living and compromised standards that their very success induces. The Greeks despised the Persians for their effete ways and the barbarians the Romans for their dissolute lifestyle. And we know who came out on top in those standoffs.
No one is saying that we should not enjoy the fruits of our success, but we must maintain our core values and the essential disciplines which go with them. Otherwise we will go the way of Nineveh and Tyre.
Not helping in this struggle to maintain standards is the West’s current obsession with celebrity. It has reached farcical proportions. Time was that to be a celebrity you had to have done something; something pretty amazing. And you had not to blot your copybook along the way. Yet today we shower adulation and honours on former drug and sex addicts, philanderers, rotten bankers, shady party funders, time servers, spin doctors, failed politicos, useless Met chiefs and not so brilliant actor/showbiz types who, in many cases, deny the country who made and furnished them with their great wealth a small part of it to fund its necessary expenses.
Young people are mesmerised by the lure of fame. They are being seduced by the idea that their life chances are unaffected by not taking their studies seriously. Why endure the tedium of swatting when you can nab a mega-rich footballer, try your luck on the lottery, win the X Factor or be a Page 3 girl? There’s always something out there. And if all else fails there’s always that soft-touch dozy lot down Social. And if you prefer not to work, well that’s a lifestyle option, innit. And no worries either about having no points on the social housing list! No prob… just have a baby or two… or three… or four.
It is truly a sad spectacle to see all those delusional wannabes packing out the car park of The X Factor waiting for the call. And what does it say about us that the producers serve up for our edification and ridicule the most hopeless, cringe-making losers. There is almost a gladiatorial games feel about it all when they step out in front of 5,000 people to demean and make fools of themselves and, inevitably, be hissed and booed. Many are genuinely puzzled, even furious, that others cannot see the enormity of their talent. Some, undoubtedly, have mental health problems and it is hard to believe that the producers do not know that.
The truth is we have to be realistic and accept that few of us have that sort of shining talent which will leave our peers breathless. Equally, we must accept that the odds against us winning the lottery or The X Factor, or bagging a Wayne Rooney, are slim to the point of vanishing.
So what is the alternative? A humble acceptance of not being a super nova, but being ordinary. Normal, if you like. Being normal is not such a bad thing. Great nations are not built by the glitterati, but by the quality of their ordinary people. It was those ordinary people who Wellington, by the way, described as “the scum of the earth” who handed him his victory at Waterloo after a daylong pounding by the best that the French could throw against them. Hallelujah, I say, for the common man; more properly termed ‘the salt of the earth’. His loves and lives beat nine out of ten of the never satisfied divas.