Early one Sunday morning in spring in 1982 a young university student called Stephen jumped from the top of a block of flats in Manchester. He landed on grass. My girlfriend Helen and I were the only people around. While she went to phone an ambulance I covered him with my coat and held his hand. He was drifiting in and out of consciousness. He told me his name and address. Then he died.

Later that day a policeman came to my flat to “take a statement” (a formal account of what happened). He told me that he had been to the address Stephen had given me and spoken to his flatmates. Apparently Stephen was under pressure to pass his university exams. The fear of failure killed him.

Is life a race to succeed? Look at the Olympic Games. The difference between a medal and obscurity in the 100 metres is .04 of a second. That’s less time than it takes a heart to beat.The difference between success and failure is less than a heartbeat.

So why do we do it? Why have we created a success driven society? We don’t need it. There is enough food and energy in this world for everyone. Our survival doesn’t depend on it.

Would it have been such a tragedy if Stephen had not passed his exams? My God! Any job is better than the morgue.

There was a fisherman sitting by the harbour drinking a glass of red wine when a millionaire businessman passed by.


‘Why aren’t you fishing?’ he asked.
’I’ve got enough fish for my family today,’ replied the fisherman.
‘You should go out and catch more!’
‘To sell’
‘To buy a bigger boat.’
‘But why’?’
‘To catch even more and become rich!’
‘Then what?’
‘Then you can sit back and enjoy life!’
‘What do you think I’m doing now?’

In my judgement we should make a distinction between success and happiness. Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get. And if life isn’t about happiness, then what is life about?

When we look at our children do we see future lawyers, doctors and businessmen? Because what we should see is children. Tinker, tailor, soldier. sailor,rich man, poorman, beggarman…what does it matter?

Your value as a person does not come from your job.

Schools with their archaic, competitive examination system, pushy parents living their lost opportunities through their offspring are dangerous.

Of course we need doctors and bankers andjudges. But we need poets and singers and mystics every bit as much. Maybe even more.

“Life isn’t serious. It isn’t sombre. It’s an adventure, it’s almost a game. You have to hide from the seriousness of the idiots.” (Jaques Brel )

That was the lesson nobody taught Stephen.

What a waste! What a pity! What a shame!