Brian's Blog

…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World

The Element


The Element is a book written by Ken Robinson based on a concept: “How finding your passion changes everything.” I picked the book up at my local library with the view to helping some people close to me find their ‘element’ and also recognise it more for myself – I didn’t go looking for such a book, it was just (as is usually the case) one that stood out to me at the time. I borrowed it around the same time I stumbled upon an inspirational Youtube video which I wrote about recently (link below), but I don’t recall which occurred first.

This idea of finding inspiration is something that has been on my mind for a long time, as I mention in my earlier article, and the process of finding things that inspire us into action begins at a very young age – young minds are the most flexible and are open to just about anything. Parents are first in line for imposing restrictions that limit the mindset, but they aren’t necessarily to blame because they’ve already had their mindset restricted also – some more so than others. Then children are packed off too school where they meet the physical and intellectual confines of their classrooms and playgrounds and the social confines of their classmates. Some schools and teachers will do better than others in opening up those confines as much as possible and the key here is to be attentive to each individual child and recognise what makes them tick – no two children are the same.

But then what do I know? I’m neither a parent or a teacher, but I have been parented and taught, so that’s probably beside the point.

Coincidentally, around this time the topic of homeschooling has been discussed on a couple of radio talk shows I listen too and a point I found particularly interesting was that it’s a choice for parents to send their children off to school; it’s perhaps just a social convention that dictates to most parents that that’s what they “must” do.

The thing is, I think we’re all (or can be) responsible for ensuring everyone around us, young or old, can firstly recognise inspiration, and secondly feel free to act upon it. Of course we first need to be able to recognise it for ourselves and be free enough to pursue what inspires us, and I think this is/can be inspirational to others in itself.

The freedom part is littered with hindrances. In childhood the school system can be a hindrance because of the need to follow a curriculum and keep up with the other students throughout the standard subjects, this can mean there is little time to pursue a particular element that may light a spark. The book revealed to me that The Element often lurks in a specific area of a specific subject, or it may reside in narrow fields in more than one subject. Take gifted musicians for example; it might not be that they have a aptitude for music as a whole, but rather a specific instrument and a specific genre of music may be the key. At home, children may not be brought up in the right environment to encounter and act upon things that inspire them; being sat in front of the TV or computer from the moment they get home until they go to bed would be a clear example.

I feel I was very fortunate to have a mother who limited how much TV I was allowed to watch when I was a child, and I wasn’t allowed my own TV in my bedroom until I was twelve years old. Up until this point I had to carefully choose what I wanted to watch, and work around siblings too; if I wasted my time watching something I wasn’t really interested in then I wouldn’t have any time left to watch something I really liked. Then I had time to do “homework” before being allowed to play outside. Also, my mum grew up playing a few different musical instruments and therefore she gave me the freedom/encouraged me to attend lessons (some in school and some outside of it) for one of my choosing. Actually I seemed to loose interest in an instrument after a while and I would have to reluctantly approach her to ask if I could quit those the lessons and learn another instrument that had taken my fancy. This happened a few times and in some ways I wonder if perhaps I was given a little too much freedom in order to do this, rather than being “encouraged” to try harder in what I was already doing (and I’m talking in a broader sense here), so a balance is important.

In later years a lack of energy will hinder our ability to pursue our passions (children are bundles of energy), or even recognise them (especially if we’ve not grown up in an environment that assists in our recognising and pursuing a spark). I noticed this early in my adult life because even when I was at college supposedly attending a course on a subject I really wanted to do, the pace of the course meant if something within that course intrigued me, that section would end and we would move on to something else and I would have no energy in my spare time to pursue it. I see this particularly now with those in full-time work; a busy working life can mean you get home and just “want to” sit down in front of the TV and switch off from the rest of the world. This is a great shame. Again, partly this may be because of an upbringing that allowed for such behaviour, but partly it seems to be the nature of a working life for many. Even at weekends when there is time to recover we might “choose” to follow social conventions and perhaps go out with friends, family or colleagues, keeping ourselves busy and using our energy in social ways rather than pursuing a personal and private passion we might not even know about.

I think that finding The Element is possible for each and every one of us. It might not be any one specific thing, and even if it is, that one thing may not remain the same, or the same one thing throughout our lives. I often talk about how library books jump out at me from the shelves; I’m pretty sure this is why I go there, to find inspiration, as if I might find it in the books, because I often find something to write or talk about, but then up until now I think I’ve felt like I’m still searching, as if that last book I read wasn’t quite “it” (as if one book could, in its entirety be “it”) and I need to go back and find another. The thing is, it seems most books were “it”, but just a part of it, and a large portion of the path I’ve been on has been facilitated by those small bits of “it” all along.

Sometimes though, there are things in our lives that really aren’t “it”. There are things, and sadly people, that don’t contribute to our Element, those people we hang out with or work with, or live with – recognising occurrences of this is probably as important as recognising when the Element is present. This works the other way too – sometimes we don’t provide the right energy to encourage or inspire the Element in other people, and this was the fear I revealed in my earlier piece, but that isn’t to say some careful refocusing can’t correct this.

There are some people in my life that have a busy time working a full-time job and returning home with little energy and seemingly nothing that inspires them, and I feel bad for them and worry “this is it”; I recognise this, and perhaps they do too, but I’m the one with the energy to assist, but I just don’t know how, as if the issue requires my active input. Then perhaps they might have a week off work, and all of a sudden this freedom on their time opens a window on their creative mind and a light shines in… and a light radiates out. I have seen how quickly creativity can start to flow when the right conditions are present and it is beautiful to see and feel – I have felt upset to see someone’s creative ability stifled, but I have been moved in the other direction when they become free.


Previous post:

Here’s a video of the author of The Element talking about some of the ideas in his book:

The book:


2 comments on “The Element

  1. bribikes
    13 February, 2016

    Great post, Brian! I enjoyed the ted talk as well. My parents made the decision to homeschool us seven kids and this is one of the main reasons. They wanted us to explore our own interests and develop at our own pace. Our family never had cable TV, so my siblings and I spent our free time reading, playing wild games outdoors and building things when we were inside. It was a great childhood. Not perfect by any means, but still great.

    The way I was raised had a great impact on me, I am fiercely individualistic, to a fault. I also have filled my life with things I am passionate about, almost unconsciously.

    I am not saying that homeschooling is a perfect method or the only answer to conformity in education, but it is truly a wonderful way to raise kids to find their passions.

    • Brian
      15 February, 2016

      “Fiercely individualistic” – I like it! Thanks for the input Bri.

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This entry was posted on 11 February, 2016 by in Art, Books, Health and Fitness, Psychology.
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