Something to Think About – The R’s of Live – Survival in a Modern World – Rejection – A fact of Life by Sally Cronin

The R’s of Life – Chapter Twelve – Rejection – A Fact of Life

One of life’s certainties is that at some point you are going to be rejected personally or professionally. It can happen at any age and because it is a certainty, it does pay to prepare for it, or if unexpected have some strategies to cope with it.

Rejection is when you are denied something you want, love, need, desire or expect.

Real life is seldom as cut and dried, and certainly less kind when it comes to rejection. This is why you have to boost your mental immune system, the one that keeps depression, despair, low self-esteem and unhappiness at bay. We are bombarded with messages about boosting our physical immune system, by eating our five a day and by avoiding antibiotics, but if you look at the headlines in the magazines and newspapers, you would be forgiven in thinking there was a conspiracy to make you emotionally and mentally deficient.

Because being made to feel that we are not slim enough, beautiful enough, rich enough, cool enough is a form of rejection. It puts us outside a relatively small segment of our society who are considered to be the ‘It’ people.

Most of us bounce back eventually from most of life’s rejections because they happen to everyone at some point. We learn hopefully that often rejection is followed by something better at least for us.. As they say.. one door closes and another door opens!

But what about the rejections that make a much deeper impact on us at the time or throughout our lives.  The rejections that can often take place before we are born resulting in a decision that leaves a child always wondering what they did wrong!

One of the first rejections a child has to face is one that  cannot be prepared for and which can effect you for the rest of your life.

The one form of acceptance we should all have a right to expect is that our birth mother is not going to reject us. Unfortunately, not every birth is planned or welcomed especially if the mother is very young or in desperate circumstances. This leads to babies being put up for adoption into families who are ready and prepared for the responsibility of parenthood. Believe it or not, adoptions for that reason are way down on where they were in the 1970s and 1980s, when there was little family planning advice or available contraceptives such as the pill.

If a young woman became pregnant up until fairly recently, it was considered shameful. Many were sent off to maternity homes where their babies were taken from them immediately as the only option open to them if they wished to remain part of society. I can remember at 16 being told in no uncertain terms, that if I became pregnant, I would be shown the door and left to my own devices.. Best contraceptive known to man.

Today there are a number of options available to someone who finds themselves pregnant and in most of our western countries, a welfare state to support the mother.

However, it takes two to conceive, but if the man is not willing to accept responsibility, he is the first to reject the child even before it is born. I have very strong feelings about this, as I believe that even if a couple are not together, the father should bear some of the burden of caring for the baby. It should not be a case of sow your seed and scatter!

Of course there are occasions when the mother may be uncertain of the identity of the father and that is extremely sad.

Although newborn adoption rates are way down, the number of children taken into foster care is increasing. The sad fact is that not every mother and father, single or otherwise, is prepared or able to bring up a child or children. Whilst the majority of children in the state’s care have been removed from a parent for one reason or another, their time within the system is still a form of rejection. By a society who feels that they are not worthy of adopting, mainly because it is newborn and toddlers who are the preferred age group.

“The number of children in care has reached a record high, with 90 young people entering the care system each day, figures show.

Amid ongoing cuts to children’s centres and local family support services, the number of looked-after children in England and Wales reached 72,670 in the 12 months to March 2017 – marking the biggest annual surge of children in care in seven years.

Campaigners said the figures highlight the urgent need for the Chancellor to use his Autumn Budget next month to address the £2bn funding gap facing children’s services by 2020, or place a growing number of children at risk”  The Guardian

And thank goodness for the thousands of wonderful foster parents out there who devote their lives to taking children in and giving them love and a sense of family. Of course there are the occasional negative story about life in a foster family, but in reality they are few and far between. However, a child in foster care often faces a lifetime of doubt and a sense of disconnection from others who grew up with birth parents.

The situation in the United States.

Many of America’s child welfare systems are badly broken — and children can suffer serious harm as a result. Some will be separated from their siblings. Others will be bounced from one foster care placement to another, never knowing when their lives will be uprooted next. Too many will be further abused in systems that are supposed to protect them. And instead of being safely reunified with their families — or moved quickly into adoptive homes — many will languish for years in foster homes or institutions.

On any given day, there are nearly 438,000 children in foster care in the United States.

In 2016, over 687,000 children spent time in U.S. foster care.

On average, children remain in state care for nearly two years and six percent of children in foster care have languished there for five or more years.

Despite the common perception that the majority of children in foster care are very young, the average age of kids entering care is 7.

In 2016, more than half of children entering U.S. foster care were young people of color.

While most children in foster care live in family settings, a substantial minority — 12 percent — live in institutions or group homes.

In 2016, more than 65,000 children – whose mothers’ and fathers’ parental rights had been legally terminated – were waiting to be adopted.

In 2016, more than 20,000 young people aged out of foster care without permanent families. Research has shown that those who leave care without being linked to forever families have a higher likelihood than youth in the general population to experience homelessness, unemployment and incarceration as adults.

Whilst being in foster care may not be the perfect answer, there are countries where even that basic care is not on offer.

The estimated number Of Orphans In The World

Some countries have far more orphans per capita than others, but each nation contributes to the worldwide total estimated by UNICEF. The estimated number of orphans in the world is 153 million, or almost 11 percent of children in the world. While the reasons and locations vary, these children share common needs that are most often met through donations.

Alarming Statistics Related to the High Number of Orphans

263 million children are not currently in school
66 million school-age children go to class feeling hungry each day
Half of all deaths of children under 5 involve malnutrition
Each minute, 20 people are forced to flee their homes due to violence
25% of the world’s children live in violent or disaster zones

However a child is separated from its mother, there is going to be a sense of rejection and abandonment. There can be acceptance as a child that you are with a loving adoptive family or part of a group in a foster home, but it also brings questions that may never be answered. Who was my mother? Who was my father?  What are my origins? Where did I come from? Do I have brothers and sisters? Why did my mother give me up?

In many countries it is now possible for both birth parents and adopted children to petition for details of each other. Many children from the 1960s and 1970s have been reunited successfully, but others have often been rejected for the second time for a number of reasons; leaving the adopted child still without answers about their past and families. Unfortunately, many thousands will never know their birth families and live with doubts and a sense of rejection all their lives. In the last few years with DNA testing sites opening the door to finding familial matches for genealogy purposes, the job of finding long lost relatives has become more of a reality.

Rejection by society

Another reason that children are abandoned is because they are disabled and in China for example, this is now the primary reason for a child to end up in the care system. Finding adoptive parents under these circumstances is even more challenging and many countries are not equipped to deal with long-term care of children who have to remain in the system. This leads to appalling conditions and very high mortality rates.

There have been some amazing stories recently about school children working together to support disabled classmates, especially during sporting events. These are terrific to hear about, but generally a disabled child is likely to feel outside of the group both in the classroom and playground. I produced a documentary for a Cerebral Palsy unit and visited schools where some of the centre’s children attended. The saddest thing that I saw was a ten year old boy watching from the sidelines as all his classmates played football. Not an intentional rejection but just young children being children and getting on with their lives.

Rejection within the birth family

Most women develop into being great mothers but some do not. Even those who plan on having a child, realise once they are mothers, that it is simply not in their make-up and behave appallingly as they resent the 24/7 job they have taken on. This is particularly so for single mothers who have made the decision to bring up their child by themselves without a strong support system in place. A young woman who finds herself isolated and with little chance of realising her expectations, and little assistance to do so. Resentment is the bedfellow of regret.

Even if a child is part of a family group they can still face rejection as they fall short of their parent’s expectations, and that rejection is very painful. It manifests itself in many ways both verbally and sometimes physically. That can undermine and determine a child’s future just as surely as if they had been dumped on the doorstep of an orphanage. In some respects even though it is not ideal, a child who is adopted is going to parents who actually want a child and accept the responsibility and give that child a loving home. There are millions of children who live with their birth families and never know that kind of security.

So there are some examples of rejection where a child has very little choice about the matter.

The use of the a very important word in our vocabulary growing up.

When I was growing up I was accustomed to the word NO from a very early age. I learnt that there were certain things that I couldn’t do, say or attempt because they were either too dangerous or beyond my abilities. I was not always happy about this and it was not unknown for me to get into difficulties because I did not believe that NO meant NO.  I would often find a work around that obtained the same objective.  At age seven, it nearly cost me my life as I nearly drowned having defied my mother about playing on seaweed covered rocks. A good lesson that tempered my rebellious spirit somewhat.

A child pushes boundaries and it is a natural instinct. Children need to understand their limitations at a very early age otherwise it can be dangerous for them and for others. No to sticking their fingers into electric sockets, touching hot liquids, not running into the road and it would seem an endless list of life threatening hazards.

Our family were not known for throwing around compliments, and back in the 1960s and 1970s there was not the money for lots of toys and to buy the latest fashions. Most clothes were home made and I also benefited from having two older sisters. I went out to work part-time at 14 and from that time on I was responsible for buying my own clothes and paying for my recreation. But at that time, apart from envying Lulu and Twiggy their freedom to wear mini-skirts,  there was little in the way of advertising on television or even in the magazines; so we were simply not exposed to the media in the same way. Consequently our expectations about our future were much simpler and usually attainable.

Today it is very different and it is a nightmare for parents who have children who are bombarded daily with messages about the latest phones, sneakers, music, video games and other must haves. It must be very difficult to keep saying NO when it would seem that proving your love for a child comes with a price tag. If a child keeps getting what it wants without too much effort except a little emotional blackmail and nagging it becomes embedded in their nature.

Get into their teens and there is an expectation that they can have everything they want. They watch the reality shows like the X-Factor and see kids of their own age getting the attention and possible fast track to fame, and they expect that short-cut as well. YES is the word that they want to hear and because they do not understand the concept of NO.. they are totally unprepared for the rejection that happens to us all.

You only have to listen to a seventeen year old who is in tears because they have been rejected by the judges and worse still by the public… ‘I’ve wanted this all my life, I don’t know what I am going to do now.’ You only have to read about the twenty-five year olds who did get through, who are now burnt out and finding it impossible to deal with their moment of fame that is now fading.

Building a robust emotional and mental immune system.

To build a strong physical immune system we have to be exposed to the world and its grime and germs from an early age. Nature intended that we would scrape our knees and get dirt in the wound, get stung by a bee, catch a cold and be exposed to pollen and other allergens. Germs lived liberally on the surfaces in the kitchen and in the bathroom and as we grew, our developing immune system would learn how to fight off the less dangerous varieties so that we could battle the fatal ones such as measles.

Today we have a spray cleaner that can eradicate up to 99% of all known germs…many children do not even have access to an outside environment, where they can damage themselves a little to teach their body how to fight serious disease.

And in today’s world of materialism and media advertising, combined with peer pressure, it is very hard to build a strong and resilient mental and emotional immunity.

We are encouraged to tell our children how beautiful they are, how talented and how they can have anything they want in the world. It is only since the increase in the reality shows such as X-Factor, The Voice, Pop Idol and such, that we get to see, not just those that actually have talent, but those who have been told they have it and don’t.

Which is more damaging? To tell a child that they are a great singer repeatedly and then to have those expectations dashed so publicly on live television.. And let’s be honest; who has not laughed at the selection of no-hopers paraded before us during the auditions as ‘entertainment’ value. For a young person that initial humiliation is compounded when the episode is aired. You would have to be very thick skinned to face your school or work mates the next day.

Of course many children do have a natural talent such as singing, dancing, art, but it rarely develops into a career without dedicated training and endless practice.  An overnight success is a rare phenomenon and most successful artists have spent years honing their talent. Usually they have had supportive parents or mentors who have ensured that they have the opportunity to develop a skill or talent.  It is a tough road for a child without this level of intervention.

But what about preparing children for life’s realities?

The truth that they will fall in and out of love and that is going to hurt. They will be turned down for the school football team or fail to get the part in the school play. They might not get A + on all their exams despite doing the best that they can. The fact is that some of us are not academically minded, however clever our parents tell us we are. And we are not told that being great at working with our hands is actually brilliant, or that all of us have strengths that can be developed so that our weaknesses are not as apparent.

I know that there are many of you reading this who have great kids who are well adjusted and who understand that life is not always fair. Kids who understand that overnight success is very rare and that most genuine and successful artists, business people, doctors and other professionals have studied and worked very hard to get to that point. Including facing numerous rejections on the way.

But, as I read yet more headlines on the role models that millions of kids follow, I am not surprised that those children and young adults have such a confused expectation of life. They see families such as the Kardashians who do nothing for their wealth and fame except show up and behave badly for the cameras. Most kids do not see that these so called perfect bodies and faces have been ‘enhanced’ by surgery and therefore unattainable for the majority of us. They also do not comprehend the price to be paid for that fame, in the form of rejection by much of society, and a breakdown of their relationships that are under such intense media scrutiny.

It is not all down to their parents not preparing them for rejection, nor the media which forces its way into our homes 24/7. Our current education system is also compounding the problem by treating every child as a future academic. Grooming them to apply and be accepted by  colleges that have been re-titled ‘Universities’ to take degrees in subjects that will never provide them with a job in the real world.

I have interviewed hundreds of applicants during my career in industry, at all entry levels, and in the last forty years there has been an epidemic of young people who might be clever enough to take a degree, but have little to offer in the workplace. Many assume that a degree qualifies them to enter an organisation in a mid-level position in a managerial role that actually requires a completely different set of vital skills.

It is actually summed up in the following article.

According to an article in The Daily Telegraph, a third of working graduates took jobs as cleaners, office juniors and road sweepers six months after leaving university!

That is thousands of young people that have been sold a false and potentially devastating expectation.

To me this is one of the most calculated and deplorable forms of rejection that is perpetrated over an extended period from the age of four when a child enters school and then for the next twenty years depending on secondary education and further education attendance. All children deserve the opportunity to do well and learn, but if they do not fit into the rigid limits of the state designated curriculum, then they are not offered viable opportunities to thrive and go onto be able to find work they can excel at.

For those graduates who are in sectors that actually require a degree such as the law, medicine, engineering and other sciences there is still the uncertainty of finding employment within those sectors, but if they are lucky, they will find entry level positions that pay in the region of £30,000. After three years that is likely to increase to an average of £35,000 depending on their specialisation or increased demand for their services.

But a degree is not the only way to achieve a fulfilling and successful career. A qualified plumber after his apprenticeship can expect a salary of £35,000 a year and that can increase dependent on specialised skills and increasing demand for their services.

There are some essential trades that are crying out for young people to train for. But where are the apprenticeships such as the one my father completed 80 years ago that led to a highly successful career in the Royal Navy? Where are the trade schools and technical colleges such as the one I attended to get my diploma and enabled me to walk into a good job and progress up the ladder to senior management?

What we have done is set thousands of young people up for rejection as they flood the market with qualifications that will never get them jobs they have been led to expect would be waiting for them. Not only that, the average student will leave university with a student loan to be repaid, and thousands of pounds in debt.

This chapter is about rejection and as I have already stated, there is no getting away from it any age. Those of us who have spent years having our expectations challenged, occasionally met and sometimes exceeded, can roll with the punches.

My concern for the future is that we are doing our young a great disservice. We are failing to provide them with the life skills they need to be self-sufficient and responsible, not just for their own futures but of the families they will have one day. Whilst we are focused on getting students through to higher education we are leaving a trail of rejected young people who are not being given the necessary education in the basic skills that might get them into work. They face repeated rejections when they do attempt to find work and then find themselves rejected by society when they are reliant on welfare.

Of course there is an argument that there are manual labour jobs that anyone can do. But, is that really true? You still have to get through the interview process and anyone who applies who has the basic ability to read and write, is going to get the job ahead of someone who is functionally illiterate. Because there are still forms to complete and possibly written elements to the interview and required in the position. How many applicants who cannot read or write are going to be brave enough to apply when it may identify this basic lack of education?

16.4% of adults in England, or 7.1 million people, can be described as having ‘very poor literacy skills.’ They can understand short straightforward texts on familiar topics accurately and independently, and obtain information from everyday sources, but reading information from unfamiliar sources, or on unfamiliar topics, could cause problems.

There needs to be a concentrated focus on reading and writing in the early years at primary school. A child at that age has a brain like a sponge and can absorb huge amounts of information. We need more dedicated teachers and smaller classes and money spent on education that is now spent in areas such as defense and in some cases overseas aid. Charity begins at home and 7.2 million people leaving the school system without basic literacy qualifies in my book. Incidentally the figure quoted when I first posted this series was 5.6million. An increase in 1.6 million functionally illiterate adults in a country the size of the UK has to be setting off alarms…SURELY.

Apart from being able to read and write some of the courses at school that I consider to be essential are rarely on the curriculum.  One of these is domestic science and when I left school 47 years ago, I knew how to prepare three square meals a day and a basic knowledge of nutrition.  Something that both girls and boys would benefit from as they head out into the world. Perhaps the fast food industry would veto a return to this as part of a child’s education!

In my opinion…selected ‘universities’ should be reverted back to technical colleges, and they should be offering a wide range of courses for girls and boys that provide diplomas for essential jobs. Certain degrees such as nursing should also revert back to a diploma to encourage those with lower level entry requirements to enter what is a brilliant career. A degree can always be studied for if a nurse wishes to advance to a higher grade.

We need to give those kids who have been rejected, because of a lack of academic skills, their chance to make a mark in life and become productive citizens of the future.

Finally on the subject of rejection. Not only are we on the receiving end of rejection but we also hand it out, often thoughtlessly.

Letting down someone gently is not always possible depending on the circumstances but wherever possible a rejection should be honest and couched in terms that leaves the recipient with some dignity and a way to move forward.

And if you are rejected.. What have you learned? …. What are the positive things you will take from the experience? What changes do you need to make to your behaviour or skills to reduce the chances of being rejected next time? Because there will be a next time.. and a next time until you succeed.

©sallycronin The R’s of Life 2016

You can find all the other posts in the this series in this directory:

The R’s of Life – Chapter Seven – Reading, Riting and Rithmatic = Reasoning

The R's of Life

When I was handed over at the tender age of four years old to Mrs Miller, the infant class teacher, I could already read to a basic level. With two older sisters, I was lucky enough to know my letters, and had already enjoyed a number of fairy tales and other illustrated children’s books.

In those days the aim of early education was to give you a solid grounding in the Three R’s which included Reading, Riting and Rithmatic. Obviously spelling was not part of the offering! I would say that based on my memories of the time, we spent the next two years, reaching the required standard in those three subjects, before moving onto basic geography, history and biology.

I also seem to remember, that there were not many children who by the end of primary school, had not reached a reasonable level across most subjects; enabling them to move onto secondary education. Nearly sixty years later, I find myself wondering at the numbers quoted for illiteracy in the UK and US indicating that education has not progressed as far as it should.

The Literacy Trust states that one person in six in the UK is living with poor literacy. That is a staggering 10 million people who are challenged in their daily lives to communicate. If a person cannot read or write, then it is not only the written words that are difficult to come by. Verbally too there is a much narrower vocabulary available to work with.

In an article in the Huffington Post in 2014 it was quoted that 14% of the nearly 324million US population, are not able to read or write. That is 45 million people. The article also claims that 19% of those leaving high school are unable to read! The headline news is that literacy rates have not changed in the US for ten years.

On a global scale the figures are even more daunting for reasons that I will look at shortly.

‘New literacy data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) indicate there are 758 million adults, 15 years and older, who still cannot read or write a simple sentence. Roughly two-thirds of them are female’

This statement does have encouraging news regarding the literacy rate for 15 to 24 years old, which is at 91% in many countries, due to improved teaching methods and compulsory education. However, in certain countries such as sub- Saharan Africa is just 65%.

For 24 – 65 years old the figures are not so optimistic, with below 30% literacy rate in countries such as Afghanistan.

So what do these numbers mean in relation to surviving in a modern world?

As always when you talk about overwhelming figures, it is difficult to put the real impact for an individual person into perspective.

Let’s start with our own immediate environment. One way to demonstrate the disadvantage that it places someone who cannot read or write at, is to imagine you have just arrived in a foreign country; you do not know how to speak or read the language, nor do you understand the currency.

歡迎愛爾蘭 – 請開車路的左側,並按照指示前往都柏林市中心。有一個收費站,並請有確切的五錢歐元承壓。這是你佩戴安全帶的法律,如果你被發現有十幾年的強制性監禁。

My apologies to native Chinese speakers and hope fervently that I have not offended anyone!  But it does serve to demonstrate how miscommunication with literacy is very easy.

What I intended to say was!

Welcome to Ireland – please drive on the left hand side of the road and follow the directions to Dublin City Centre. There is a toll and please have five euro in exact money. It is the law that you wear a seat belt and if you are caught there is a mandatory prison sentence of ten years. (not true of course but if you cannot read and understand; it is this sort of consequence that is likely).

Obviously a little literary licence since the toll is actually cheaper than that!

Now take that a little bit further. You might have listened to a language course before you arrived on this excursion, and no doubt have memorised a few stock phrases. You might have a vocabulary of 100 – 150 words and be able ask directions, say please and thank you.

But I know from experience of living in three different countries, where I had to learn the language, that those responding, tend to talk very fast and use 900 more words than you have in your limited vocabulary!

Put yourself in this situation and imagine how you would feel. Frightened, frustrated, angry perhaps because people do not understand you when you are trying desperately to communicate with them.

You might find this article interesting from Reading Wise which talks about the link between illiteracy and crime.

Studies show a positive correlation between illiteracy / functional illiteracy and crime: half of UK prisoners have a reading age of an 11 year old or below, a figure that rises to 80% in the case of writing. Despite the Prison Service Order 4205, which makes statuary provision for learning and accreditation opportunity in the prison system, over 50% of prisoners do not possess the necessary skills for 96% of today’s jobs.

While one in two prisoners cites employment planning as being the most important aspect of their sentence plan, a measured two thirds leave prison without immediate prospect of paid employment. Within two years, two thirds of adult prisoners will have reoffended.

Also: In a recent survey carried out in 24 countries last October the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ‘found that England and Northern Ireland was ranked 22nd for literacy and 21st for numeracy’, surmising that ‘this low level of adult skills inevitably impacts on the success of the economy as a whole.’ Indeed, it has been estimated that over the course of an individual’s lifetime, the taxpayer can end up spending up to £64,000 supporting someone with poor literacy skills.

Read the whole article here.

How does this cause problems in society?

There is no way that I am going to label anyone who cannot read or write a criminal as most would rather lead a life under the radar. However, going back to how you might feel if you suddenly found yourself faced with only Chinese as a form of written or verbal communication. Just how frustrated and angry are you going to get?

How embarrassed are you going to feel that you cannot understand what is written in front of you and what is being said? Are you going to shout a little louder perhaps or get your own way by another means? Certainly that is an option taken by a small percentage of those who find themselves in that situation.

The majority however will do the opposite and will hide their lack of ability. They will develop work arounds, stick to their immediate environment, learn enough words and phrases to be able to shop and handle money. Adults with children will come to rely on them heavily when it comes to communication, and a very large majority will never ask for help.

In Britain today we have a thriving multicultural society which brings huge benefits as we live side by side. But it also has an impact on overall literacy levels.

Our education system has had to adapt and we have gone from teaching reading, writing and arithmetic to native English speakers, to first teaching English to over a million children who speak a different language at home.  Here is an excerpt from an article in the Daily Telegraph.

English is no longer the first language for the majority of pupils in more than one in nine schools, new figures have revealed. Last year the majority of children in 1,755 primary and secondary schools spoke another language at home following a sharp increase in the number of pupils with foreign born parents.

In more than 200 schools nine in ten pupils do not speak English as their mother tongue, with children speaking as many as 14 different languages. Across England, the number of pupils who have English as their second language has risen by a fifth to almost 1.1million in the past five years.

Whatever originating country, those who arrived as first generation immigrants have had the enormous task of adapting to a new country, customs and culture. Within that first generation there are still many who have never learned English. The rules are changing that will mean that any new applicants must learn the language, but that is a huge ask, especially if you are coming from a country where you were never taught to read and write in the first place.

It is very isolating, as I know from first- hand experience, and even after learning sufficient Spanish to get by in our time in Spain, you have no idea how grateful I am to be able to carry out my everyday tasks in English. And it is not just daily tasks that are easier. It is important to remember too, that even for those who do learn enough English to enjoy society to its fullest extent, there are other social differences that can isolate individuals within certain cultures.

Even if you can understand aspects of communication such as humour, it tends to be culturally related, as are different customs and the way we conduct relationships between men and women. Throw religion into the mix and you have another level of misunderstanding in the making.

What about the future of worldwide literacy?

One of the issues that I have with some of the figures that are used in the official sites for literacy is that they do not admit that overall literacy on a worldwide basis is going to be impossible to achieve in the next century if ever. This is particularly so in countries where there is no  adequate education system or where one group is excluded, such as females.

Also there are other economic and environmental factors to be taken into consideration. For many of the countries which have poor literacy rates, conflict or natural disasters such as famine and drought are ever present. The primary focus is on basic survival and there are certain countries where education will always take a back seat.

So what about Rithmatic!

Usually, even someone who cannot read and write, will understand the value of currency both in notes and coins. However, if you cannot do basic arithmetic you may not know the total amount that you have to spend. When you arrive at the store and browse the aisles you may well recognise the numbers in the pricing system but if you do not know how to add them up, you are going to struggle when you get to the checkout.

Running a household these days is expensive, but not only that, most bills these days are online. They expect you to pay by direct debit that you have to set up yourself. If you are unable to read how are you going to do that in the first place and then understand the bill and budget to pay for it?

I mentioned that many people who are living with functional illiteracy will develop work arounds.  One such option is to use the corner shop and cash, so that they can use one of the pay as you go systems for phone and utility bills. But that system will be phased out over the years as we develop newer technology, and it becomes too expensive for service companies to operate on that basis.

There are many more areas that are limiting for someone who cannot read and write or do basic arithmetic and the result is important.

Going back to the heading of this chapter which was Reading, Riting and Rithmatic = Reasoning… Another R of life.

I believe that one of the main causes of strive and conflict, including terrorism is a lack of communication. East and West has always been at odds and there is nothing new in history. The crusades were a violent and bitter conflict and that injustice has been kept alive through subsequent generations. In written history but also passed on orally.

If you cannot read and do not have access to books or modern technology then you become isolated from the world. You are then at the mercy of those who can communicate and are therefore in a position of influence and power. Without any other terms of reference, you will listen and follow the views of those who have the gift of communication, even when it is promoting hatred and violence.

This is also true of many of the religions of the world. The mystique of faith was much easier to keep alive in days when nearly all congregations were illiterate. Holy books were only read by an elite few. Millions who worshipped could only base their beliefs on the sermons of their preachers. Many who made it very clear that there is only one true path; then there is Hell and Damnation if you don’t obey.

On a daily basis, the rhetoric of our leaders and the relentless media that bombard us with inflammatory speeches and images; have cultivated a fear culture. It is one thing for us who can read other view points, to listen and to then  form our own pinions on the matter. But because of modern technology, our leader’s behaviour and attitudes as well as trashy and inflammatory headlines are beamed around the world.

That is the face we are presenting to people who have already been told that we are evil. They see the images and if they cannot read and write, they have no terms of reference to reason that this is not true for everyone within a culture. It just confirms all the dreadful things they have been told about us.

World peace is about as feasible as worldwide literacy and the end to poverty. We are making progress but it is going to take a global effort to get anywhere near the figures needed to reach mutual understanding and respect.

So that is the problems of illiteracy.. what are some of the solutions?

In an ideal world all of us would be able to read and write and be able to communicate. The numbers are more encouraging for the younger generation at 91% literacy in certain countries, but it is going to take more than a few more generations before that figure is matched globally, and in the 24-65 and older age brackets.

Like any situation where numbers are in the millions it is overwhelming. It is also very easy to feel that it is impossible to make a difference. However, I believe very firmly in the ability we all have to make a difference to one person, and for that to create a ripple effect that changes the lives of thousands.

You may also be wondering why I am including this as one of the factors in surviving in the modern world since clearly you can already read!

You have been gifted with the ability to read and many of you are also writers. Some of you are parents and grandparents and that is a great place to start. With your own children and grandchildren; encouraging a love of stories and books at a very early age. By the time they go to school, they should be excited about the prospect and the schools should be just as creative and exceptional to tap into that potential.

I was told by a teacher of an infant class once, that they preferred it if parents did not try to teach their children to read, as it was usually the wrong method. I am afraid that I disagree, as the earlier a child begins to use their imagination and learns the wonders of books the better.  A child’s brain is like a sponge and it seems to me a complete waste to let a child get to four or five before tapping into that potential.

Looking at the figures of young people leaving school, without the basic skills such as reading and writing; it would seem that getting them started as early as possible would be a great idea.

What about outside of our families?

If we want to create a safer world for our children and grandchildren in the future, and bring to an end this lack of reasoning in our communications with others, then we need to reach out and ensure that we, who have the gift of reading and writing pass that on.

There are a number of volunteer programmes worldwide that are literacy based and I am going to give you some of their links.

Time is precious and I am only too aware of that. But even if it is for one afternoon a week, if you read stories to children, work with adults with literacy difficulties, or help raise money to increase literacy; you will be doing a wonderful thing.

Even if only one person learns to read and write because of your efforts you will have made a difference…. Especially if they then go on to encourage others.

Will this cure world hunger and poverty, or achieve global literacy and world peace. I am afraid not. However, over time, it may well gift millions with the ability to read, write and reason and change their attitude towards their fellow man for the better.

If you would like to volunteer to help children and adults with literacy then here are some country specific links. I suggest that you search for organisations within your own countries who are usually very keen to find volunteers.

UK -


Canada –

Ireland –

©sallycronin The R’s of Life.

Thank you for reading and of course your feedback is very welcome.