The Art of Strengths Coaching

R is for Romantic Realists Who Deliver Remarkable Results

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During the past fifty years I have studied many positive realists. Such people have a positive attitude, but are also good at reading reality. They are not blind optimists.

This approach led to studying romantic realists who have also delivered remarkable results. Such people aim to build on the positive spirit in people. They then do practical work that enables people to achieve their picture of success.

Romantic realists believe in getting the basics right and then adding the brilliance. They do this by encouraging people to build solid foundations and then flourish. Such people are the opposite of repressive rulers who use fear to force people into regimentation.

Romantic realists recognise, however, that it is vital to deliver results. Otherwise they will be accused of being woolly and lacking realism. They realise that:

If you are going to be a deviant, you have to over-deliver.

During my early career I met several people who took this path. They encouraged people to build on their strengths, do superb work and achieve their picture of success.

Alec Dickson took this approach when creating Voluntary Service Overseas and Community Service Volunteers. Henry Pluckrose did it when leading the much acclaimed Prior Weston Primary School. George Lyward did it when creating a successful therapeutic community for troubled boys at Finchden Manor.

There were also many romantic realists who I learned from but never met. These included Maria Montessori, the pioneering educator; Virginia Satir, the family therapist; Paul Hawken, the business leader and environmentalist; and Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop.

Working with sport teams also revealed that some coaches were romantic realists. They built teams based on character, consistency and creativity. People worked hard to maintain high standards and then, when appropriate, add that touch of magic. Such teams sometimes reached the heights and provided positive memories for life.

Looking back, can you think of a person who was a romantic realist and delivered remarkable results? This could have been somebody you knew or have heard about. The person may have worked in education, therapy, business, art or some other field.

What were the characteristics of this person? What did they do to be both realistic and inspirational? What did they do to deliver remarkable results?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to write the name of the person and then do the following things.

Describe the specific things the person did to be a romantic realist and deliver remarkable results.

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of them taking these steps.

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Romantic realists have steel. Whilst believing in humanity’s possibilities, they are also practical. They show how people can do superb work during their time on the planet.

Peter Benson demonstrated some of these themes. He was a remarkable educator who dedicated his life to helping people to find their sparks. His practical approach has helped many people around the world. Speaking about children, he said:

Children want to be known for their sparks. When you see these sparks in them, affirm them. You shall know them by their sparks.

Peter had a profound influence on the way that many people encourage children, teenagers and adults. He and his colleagues at the Search Institute focused on when people come alive. Here is an extract from the Institute’s web site. You can discover more via the following link.

Sparks Cover

Sparks are the hidden flames in kids that excite them and tap into their true passions.

Sparks come from the gut. They motivate and inspire. They’re authentic passions, talents, assets, skills, and dreams.

Sparks can be musical, athletic, intellectual, academic, or relational; from playing the violin to working with kids or senior citizens.

Sparks can ignite a lifelong vocation or career, or balance other activities to create an emotionally satisfying, enriched life.

Sparks get kids going on a positive path, away from the conflicts and negative issues – violence, promiscuity, drugs, and alcohol – that give teens a bad name and attract so much negative energy.

Peter and his colleagues at the Search Institute researched the sparks found within American teenagers. Below is a list of what were found to be the ten most common sparks. These were the activities and areas in which the young people felt most alive, joyful and inspired.

Creative Arts
Learning (e.g., languages, science, history)
Helping, serving
Spirituality, religion
Nature, ecology, environment
Living a quality life (e.g., joy, tolerance, caring)
Animal welfare

Peter and his colleagues produced many books, materials, courses and other tools that enabled people to find and develop their sparks. Below is a video of him speaking at TEDxTC.

He died at the age of 65 in 2011. Announcing Peter’s passing under the title of Remembering A Life Well Lived, the Search Institute described him as: 

An inspiring leader who devoted his own life to making the world a better place for families, schools and communities.

Romantic realists work in many different fields. Below are excerpts from an article written by Alexandra York about such people who work in the arts. This is called Romantic Realism: Visions of Values. 

The article starts by describing the importance of human values such as decency and the love of beauty. It then explores how to practise these as an artist. You can discover more via the following link.

Romantic Realists In Art

ROMANTIC REALISM: Visions of Values

by Alexandra York

Allegiance to human values, to discipline of technical skills, and to the love of beauty would appear to be the radical art ideas of our time.

Contemporary artists of the ROMANTIC REALISM persuasion are the new “radicals” for they embrace these very premises and express them – each individually – in their work.  

Philosophically, they (fundamentally) view the world as a positive/beautiful place in which to live and mankind capable of living in it.  

Psychologically, they view reason and emotion as capable of being in harmony with each other.

Artistically, they unify form and content in the same way – and for the same reasons – that they unite reason and emotion.

We may say that the best contemporary Romantic Realists weave into their work the greatest beauty of nature and the highest thoughts of man; beauty enhances truth, and truth strengthens beauty – weft and warp are tightly entwined.

Romantic Realist artists ignite the flame of emotion deep within the interior of their work, and it spreads and glows throughout.

If successful, the resulting art offers us tantalizing visions of a heightened reality, a reality that is universal yet individual, imagined yet real, timeless yet timely – emotion harnessed by technique, expression evolving from content, and the eternal explored in the temporal: Mood, mystery and metaphor. Possibilities. Passion. Life.

Romantic Realists do not deny and may even dramatize human struggle, suffering or absurdity, but if they choose to explore the underbelly of life, the best of them do so with a higher purpose.  

Artists can address human struggles, to be sure. But rather than resorting to the easy outlets of whine or tantrum, they can express struggle as an act of affirmation, by respecting the power of human sight rather than degrading it and by offering visions of why the struggle is worthwhile so that life might be enhanced and encouraged toward the better.

Self absorption and fascination for the “Dark” are pastimes of the idle, the alienated and the angry; artists so preoccupied are serving as the handmaidens of death and destruction.  

It is a passion for life that leads contemporary Romantic Realist artists forward to express a rebirth of values that can elevate their own spirit as well as the spirit of those who experience their art.

It is a reverence for and a tenacious love for the beautiful – and for the possible – in the world and in humankind that clears their vision to create images of glory in their art, images that thrill us, that move us, that inspire us. For what cannot be imagined, cannot happen.

Artists have always been the dreamers. Whether we follow beautiful dreams or nightmares is up to us.

Ugliness and cruelty and tragedy are part of life, to be sure, but the Romantic Realist knows that in art, it is life-serving values that we need to see – to experience – in order to bring those visions of values into existence in the real world.

The avant-garde artists today may be again the romantic crusaders of the future yet unsung, each armed not with a sword but with a rose.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Can you think of a situation when you may want to be a romantic realist and work to deliver remarkable results?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to be a romantic realist and work to deliver remarkable results.

Describe the specific things you can do to be a romantic realist and do your best to deliver remarkable results.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking these steps.

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