From the Principal

The events that will or have taken place in the early part of this term continue to provide much pride and joy for the Salesian College community. One such highlight has been the incredible College production of Hairspray which ran from Thursday 7 August – Saturday 9 August. Our partnership with Sacred Heart to put on such a production is a credit to the commitment of staff from both colleges. The chance to work with the girls from Sacred Heart provided an opportunity for our boys to shine on stage, displaying their God given talents.

As teachers we gain the most satisfaction from witnessing our students achieve and the sense of joy they get from their success. Successes can take many forms, a good grade on an essay, a good result on a test, winning an event at the swimming carnival; sometimes it can be as simple as finally understanding Pythagoras. To reach such heights all of us have to find the courage to take ourselves outside our comfort zones and give things a go. The students involved in the production are wonderful examples of doing just that. Other examples include the boys who put themselves on the sporting stage on a weekly basis representing the College and we thank them for their efforts and wish them well as they reach the half way mark of the Term three season. Another fine example of boys taking themselves out of their comfort zone were our public speakers who competed in the Mary McKertich Public Speaking competition two weeks ago. All boys did themselves proud with a number of excellent and topical speeches. The junior boys in particular were strong and augured well for the future of public speaking here at Salesian College Chadstone. I would like to thank Mr Andrew Schillaci and Mrs Donna Patch for their organisation of the event along with all in the English faculty for the work they did in their classes.

My reflection this week comes after reading an article ‘No Time to Think’ by Kate Murphy, a journalist in Houston who writes frequently for The New York Times (article 25 July, 2014).

She reflects on what she believes is society’s inability to deal with quiet moments in our lives and the impact this has on a number important aspects of our lives. She intimates that we deliberately busy ourselves, often with menial tasks to avoid spending alone time. She mentions a phenomenon we have all encountered when speaking to others in modern society and that is the complaint of being too busy, being overscheduled, overcommitted and overextended. As she suggests, we have all listened to the very predictable response to common question such as how are things, or how have you been? Regularly the answer is “super busy,” “flat out”, “crazy busy” or “insanely busy.” It appears that nobody is just “fine” anymore.

I found it very interesting and worthy of sharing with the community as there are some good lessons in it for all in our community.

She argues that people are making themselves super busy, if not at work or school then exercising, entertaining or taking part in language lessons, dance classes, being tutored or maybe they are insanely busy playing fantasy football. More important was her consideration that when or if we get a quiet moment for a reflective thought we will avoid it by filling in the time mindlessly on our mobile devices.

She looked at a study by Timothy Wilson, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia published last month in the journal Science, which shows how far people will go to avoid introspection. The study found the majority of 700 participants reported that they found it unpleasant to be alone in a room with their thoughts for just 6 to 15 minutes. Moreover, in one experiment, 64 percent of men and 15 percent of women began self-administering electric shocks when left alone to think.

The study hypothesized we do this because when left alone, we tend to dwell on what’s wrong in our lives. “One explanation why people keep themselves so busy and would rather shock themselves is that they are trying to avoid that kind of negative stuff,” said Ethan Kross, director of the Emotion and Self-Control Laboratory at the University of Michigan We have evolved to become problem solvers and meaning makers. What preys on our minds, when we aren’t updating our Facebook page or in spinning class, are the things we haven’t figured out — difficult relationships, personal and professional failures, money trouble, and health concerns and so on? For our students these worries are often linked to their studies, worrying about the amount of homework or study they are doing, that upcoming SAC or that essay that is due. And until there is resolution, or at least some kind of understanding or acceptance, these thoughts reverberate in our heads. Hello rumination. Hello insomnia.

She goes on to argue that you can’t solve or let go of problems if you don’t allow yourself time to think about them. It’s an imperative ignored by our culture, which values doing more than thinking and believes answers are in the palm of your hand rather than in your own head.

Experts believe that suppressing negative feelings only gives them more power, leading to intrusive thoughts, which in turn makes people get even busier to keep them at bay. Studies further suggest that not giving yourself time to reflect impairs your ability to empathize with others. “The more in touch with my own feelings and experiences, the richer and more accurate are my guesses of what passes through another person’s mind,” said Giancarlo Dimaggio, a psychiatrist with the Center for Metacognitive Interpersonal Therapy in Rome, who studies the interplay of self-reflection and empathy. “Feeling what you feel is an ability that atrophies if you don’t use it.”

Researchers have also found that an idle mind is a crucible of creativity. A number of studies have shown that people tend to come up with more novel uses for objects if they are first given an easy task that allows their minds to wander, rather than a more demanding one.

So what does this all mean for us? The first thing that stands out for me is that we need to overcome our fear of being alone with our thoughts. In fact I would argue that we need to make time in our day for some quiet reflection time to sort through the issues we all face in our lives or to reflect on the spiritual aspect of our lives, to take time out to consider the bigger picture, and allow a little of the wonder and awe creation provides to filter into our minds. We could allow our creative juices to flow unhindered, we could even say a prayer or two.

The second thing I take from reading this article is to be aware of how much we cram into a day especially on social media and ask ourselves if what we are doing is in our best interests. Are we having meaningful interactions or are we merely filling in time to avoid having a conversation with those around us or ourselves?

When it comes to dealing with our problems experts advise, to get rid of the emotional static, do not use first-person pronouns when thinking about troubling events in our lives. Instead, use third-person pronouns or your own name when thinking about yourself. Dr Kross of Michigan suggests that “If a friend comes to you with a problem it’s easy to coach them through it, but if the problem is happening to us we have real difficulty, in part because we have all these egocentric biases making it hard to reason rationally,” said “The data clearly shows that you can use language to almost trick yourself into thinking your problems are happening to someone else.”

Hard as they sometimes are, negative feelings are a part of everyone’s life, arguably more so if you are crazy busy. But it’s those same deep and troubling feelings, and how you deal with them, that make you the person you are. While busyness may stanch welling sadness, it may also limit your ability to be overcome with joy.

With this in mind find some quiet time this week and enjoy your own company.

God bless.

Robert Brennan