Toc, toc! “It´s me”

The other day I was listening to a podcast with a neurologist specialising in migraines, who said that there are 150 different types of headaches. He went on to explain the importance of knowing the patient very well in order to be able to prescribe the right medication. He was not only referring to their medical history, but also to their hobbies, their work, their day-to-day activities. “What works for John doesn’t necessarily work for Charles despite having  apparently similar symptoms.”

This reflection brought me back to the idea that Prof. John Wauck insisted on so strongly in our session in Rome with the whole team of HRF directors last week. In a world where we have tended to generalise, where we are “a numerical value”, it is essential to reclaim the uniqueness of the individual.

In the digital world we may be users and consumers, but we still live in a real society, with real human beings. At home, we are “me and you”. When we ring the doorbell and they ask: “Who is it? It is enough to answer, “It’s me”. And being unique in our home makes us normal at the same time. This identity that we forge and that is determined by our DNA, by the history of our parents, is the key to recognising our uniqueness.

How good we feel when we arrive at that place where, no matter how much we change, we are always recognised and welcomed with a hug. In the Odyssey, Odysseus returns to Ithaca after years of battle, struggle and danger, and his nurse, Euriclea, recognises him by a scar on his leg. That is home.

The digital world has allowed us to advance in many ways, but we have jeopardised others. Home, no matter how much home automation we incorporate, is analogue because it is based on human relationships created in a private sphere where we are able to just be ourselves. We need to be careful about the example we, as adults or parents, set for our children, as we are their most important technological reference. This became clear with the research carried out with IESE. In the pandemic, we shared a table with family and friends through a screen, because deep down, we longed for those analogue moments that meant home.

Prof. John Wauck remembered a song by Joe Walsh:

The whole world is living in a digital dream, it’s not really there, it’s all on the screen, makes me forget who I am but I am an analogue man that’s gonna get an analogue girl who loves me for what I am.  A timely message for us all.



In the UK there is currently a joint action case coming to court, brought by students who feel their access to the education promised by their university courses was denied by Covid restrictions. This article does not concern itself with the rights and wrongs of the case, but with one of the points made by the complainants. The point is that “hands-on” practical skills cannot be fully taught online. Students argue that while some disciplines do allow for remote learning, for others you just have to be in the same room as your teachers. Sculpture, for example, or neurosurgery.

A student of sculpture notes that it is more than the teacher’s words that guides the student’s hands, it is his or her own actual hands working with the same material at the same time. A student of neurosurgery quotes her frustrated teacher saying to camera, “You really need to feel this as well as see it.”

Being in the same room. Real hands at work. Things you can feel as well as see. The points made about the skills needed by these students can be readily applied to the home context. There are many things that we can learn – obviously – at school and college. Many things to be studied in books and on screen. It is at home though that life’s earliest and most formative lessons are given and received.

In my career as a teacher, I have had the privilege to watch young children at work and play. Unconsciously, what has been learned at home is played out in the classroom. It does not take a degree in child-psychology (valuable though this training is) to work out home attitudes and practice. A child’s responses to simple instructions such as, “Tidy-up time, now” or “Please share those crayons” can reveal a lot.

Broadly speaking, if you have seen certain positive patterns at home you are more likely to reproduce them in other circumstances. And not only to have seen them, but to have been guided in them – watched those you love do them and then started to do them yourself. Children learn from those they love and not from what they “say” so much as what they “do”  -as do we all.  This literal “handing-on” of attitudes and practices is age-old and holds true against the new challenges of our own age.

Recent research undertaken by HRF with our partners at the International Center for Work and Family at IESE underlines this. See recent article in Forbes. In the next few weeks, we shall be continuing to reflect on these initial findings, which range from the age-old distribution and benefits of household tasks to the new challenges of digital communication. Helping us make the most of the time when we are home together in the same room, to pass on the skills needed for life outside.

By Susan Peatfield