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‘Begin the begin’

A play in the West End of London many years ago began with a naked lady swinging on a rope across the stage; the action had absolutely nothing to do with the play that followed but it was certainly one way to get the audience in their seats! It follows too, by the same logic, that by mentioning a naked lady swinging on a rope across a stage at the start of this article, there is a chance that more people (let us be more specific: more men) might read further in this article. As a spoiler alert, please be advised that there will be no further mention or description of naked ladies in this article.

by Tim Middleton

It is a respected fact though that the beginning of an article or a book is crucial — we have to grab the reader’s interest and attention right from the start. The first line of the Harry Potter books is: “Mr and Mrs Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” There is an obvious inference that in fact they were not perfectly normal, thank you very much (and by using Harry Potter as an example in this article we are drawn into a familiar and popular world). The beginning of the first book of The Lord of the Rings grabs our attention by its unusual names and use of numbers: “When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.” George Orwell’s famous novel 1984 began with a similar unusual feature: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Graham Greene’s novel Brighton Rock gets straight to the point: “Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.”

So, let us get straight to the point before any further clocks strike. Authors spend hours upon hours labouring over how to start the novel because the start is so important! By the time the reader is in the third paragraph he must be so interested or intrigued that he just has to read on. So, here we are, in the third paragraph of this article and are people still reading? Whatever the outcome (and it looks like the reader is still reading), a start has been made, some time ago now, and that is really the key point of this article. A start has to be made to everything; if we are going to do anything, we must start – we must take the initiative. No-one else is going to write that book or this article. It is all about initiative (not initiation, let us note). As the old proverb states, a journey of a thousand kilometres starts, simply, with the first step.

So why then do people not take the initiative or use their initiative? Susan C Young in a book on how to take the initiative outlines a whole raft of reasons, including “a fear of rejection, looking stupid, failing, criticism, getting out of their comfort zone, or imposing on other people; a state of negativity, confusion, stress, doubt, laziness, disengagement, indifference; a lack of energy, desire, confidence, self-esteem, skills, creativity, imagination, connections, resources, education.” We might ask further why young people do not take the initiative and the answer may be found in the words of the celebrated street artist Banksy, who wrote humorously in Wall and Piece that, “A lot of people never use their initiative because no-one told them to” which is exactly the point — if we are told to do something we are not using any initiative! In truth, though, perhaps the system of education is such that we do not allow pupils to take or show initiative. We show or tell them the way; we do not give them licence to step out. We are worried about what they might do if they take the initiative.

We should equally ask the question why initiative is so important. In short, if we do not put anything down on our exam paper, we will never get any marks; if we put something, we may get some marks. Our exam answers should not include blanks spaces, a truism that is echoed in the words of Shahenshah Hafeez Khan:

“It’s better to be called stupid initially while trying something different rather than being termed stupid for not taking any initiative.”

The bottom line is we must use our initiative to get our children to take the initiative. Of course, it is one thing to get started; it is another thing to take the initiative to stop. Let us therefore give the last words on the first words to other writers and speakers. Azra Gregor pointed out that, “Your life won’t start if you don’t.” Cathy Hopkins advised people: “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to it.” That is far more fruitful than swinging on a rope across a stage. Begin to begin the begin!

l Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.

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