After a long and squishy flight, we touched down in Abu Dhabi very early yesterday at around 7:00am UAE time. We wasted no time picking up the car so we could brave the opportunity to face the insanity of Abu Dhabi’s roundabouts (combined with the local drivers – who we learned have mastered a beautiful system of ducking and weaving through the traffic into the smallest of spaces). It was all a little hair-raising for me – but I quickly learned that the fast lane is on the left – and you need to Chev-roll-et your tourist butt out of there if you’re not hitting the upper echelons of the 140km maximum speed permitted for cars!
We slowly and carefully navigated our way around Abu Dhabi to take in some of the sites and architecture – the Emirates Palace, the Presidential Palace, the Grand Mosque, the Marina – all of which astounded us with their extravagance, beauty and opulence.
We then began the 140km trip to Dubai. The lack of decent maps and internet connectivity on my phone, combined with the multi-laned steets, extreme desert heat and the unusual ‘duck weave, duck weave’ driving method of the locals made for a very interesting (and by interesting I mean anxious) journey – but we made it eventually.
Having survived that madness, we instantly made the decision to abandon the rental car and have Budget come and collect it from our hotel. Taxis will do us fine from here, thank you very much.
My first impression of Dubai – it seems to be a melting pot of extreme wealth, combined with the gentleness of Islamic culture. It is a busy city, where the heat pervades every crevice. There are the rich and the working classes. The place itself reminds does what Epcot at Disneyworld tries to do in the realm of Virtual Reality, only in Dubai they push the boundaries in the real world – the world’s tallest building, fastest roller coaster, biggest mall, biggest fountain – it boasts the worlds only 7 star hotel, even a man made island in the shape of the world. It seems that this place is about making the impossible, possible and, for me, it’s not the wealth, but the mindset that makes this place so incredible. The perfect place to start my journey into expanding the horizons of what is possible for our young people.
It calls me to reflect back on the writing of Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, who reflects on the traits of true happiness and the way that mindset dictates a person’s mental and physical health. He reflects on the “epidemic of pessimism” that is leading to depression in young people and how imbuing young people with a sense of optimism and personal mastery is what really matters in parenting and in education. Seligman speaks of this as an ‘immunization’ process, whereby this mindset can “fight off mental illness better”. Like Epcot in the virtual world and Dubai in the tangible world, Seligman has dedicated his academic life to pushing the boundaries in this cognitive world. I’m curious to learn more about it and meet people who both agree and challenge his view.
At dinner last night, we had the pleasure of meeting a lady from Nelson, New Zealand, Judy, who joined our table. Judy was a vivacious and outgoing person, journeying home, via Dubai, after a trip around the world to spend time with some of her seven children who are scattered over the globe in various occupations. Travelling alone, Judy’s optimism and sense of adventure embodied the mindset that Seligman had spoken about. She shared some of her rich life tapestry (a bitter divorce, a long drawn out struggle for what was rightfully hers, the joy and challenge of raising seven children). After this experience, she has come to a place in her life where materialism and extravagance does not matter – “this is what Dubai has taught me”, she told us, “all of the wealth only makes me appreciate my little simplistic life all the more – I don’t need this to be happy”. After many years, Judy has come to a place of total fulfillment – living on her own, embracing meditation and a simple way of life, she feels totally content. She wishes that she could have taught more of her children the importance of a positive mindset early on.
This little serendipitous conversation, on a dinner cruise in Dubai, resonates with me to the core – and I’ll carry the sentiments of her story with me as I travel and learn. Judy has learned this optimistic mindset after many difficult years of life experience – but what if we could teach this from a young age – what a difference this would make to our young people.
Signing off for now – time to confirm my appointments for my upcoming school visits.