Our family recently attended the Peru exhibition at the British Museum in London. It’s our habit to read the introductory sign together and then, in an effort to keep them engaged, I come up with a focus question that the kids should be prepared to answer when we get home. Since the introductory remarks mentioned the “successful societies” that lived in Peru, our focus question was “What makes a successful society?” It turned out to be a much more thought-provoking question than I expected and, the next day in our group learning time, we talked about our answers. (You could adapt this activity for any exhibition or study about a particular people group in a particular time period.)
To start, the children wrote down the things (concrete or abstract) that they felt made the Peruvian societies successful ones. They mentioned family, boats (transportation), nature, currency, traditions, knowledge, wisdom, music, art, culture, communication, roads, and more. Then they added the things that made our own modern society a successful one. There was quite a bit of overlap but they included, wifi (Internet), leadership, water (and water treatment facilities), to name a few.
We hit a bump when my youngest said, “happiness” and a debate started as to whether you can have a successful society without it being a happy one. I asked which traits would make the society a “happy” one? They listed things like music, creativity, religion, traditions, culture, grandparents, art, games, nature, etc.
This line of thinking begged the question, If you took all the components that provided happiness away, could the society still exist? The consensus was that it could, but it would be a boring and maybe even meaningless one.
There have, of course, been societies that existed without such “happiness”. Where people were stripped of freedom, tradition, beauty and fun. Many times this was the perfect recipe for a revolution where the hearts and minds of the people rose up and took action for the sake of life-giving happiness.
I just finished reading The Little Book of Lykke by Meik Wiking that examines the idea of why certain countries are happier than others. The findings point to themes such as community, health, and choice/freedom as being the keys to a country’s happiness.
The false assumption can easily be made that a successful society is, by definition, a wealthy one. Yet without happiness, what is it all the money for? It turns out the most successful societies could very well be the happiest ones.
A “successful” education
What about the most successful learners? If you strip learning of its happiness factor, that is: art, culture, games, creativity, community, exercise, faith, and nature, does it still have value? Because these are precisely the things that are being pulled out of traditional learning environments in the name of a “successful” education.
So with unhappy learners, what exactly does this say about the future of our society?
Other lines of questioning about this topic:
- Does our modern society have different needs than an ancient one?
- The idea of dependence- Who were the Peruvians dependent on for their needs? For their ability to thrive? What about us?
- What’s the difference between wisdom and knowledge? Where did ancient societies find both of these? Where do we find them?