What Shakespeare knew about this time of year

Weihnachtsmärkte are a large part of the reason why I moved to Germany. At this time of year, it is just the right amount of cold and I enjoy rugging up and getting outside. The Schweinfurt market is just a few steps away from my apartment and the smell of roasted, sugar-covered nuts and grilled bratwurst wafts through the air as soon as I pass out of the door.


It is the time of year when we hear carols and music in the distance.

It is the time of year when we smile at the people we accidentally bump into as we move through the stalls of the market.

It is the time of year when we have joy in our hearts…mostly.

Stress. There…I said it! It can also be a stressful time of year and more often than not stress takes up the space that we normally reserve for joy.

For DP students, December and January are big months (and not just because the food down at the Christmas market tastes so good). There are Internal Assessments to finish (English, German, Business, History), there are the TOK assessments to prepare for (did 2 years go past already?) and there is an EE to finalise. All of this happens in the approximately 18 days we have in December with January not too much better clocking in at 19 days (with 9 of these days including a mock exam block). At school, there is a sound of students being busy in the library and during lunchtime, even in those quiet moments, the stress is palpable.

When we are stressed, it is hard to see past the shadow that falls across our line of sight. To make matters worse, we get stung by others saying such things like, “What’s wrong with you?”, “You’re getting defensive”, or “Calm down” or the ultimate “Don’t be so grumpy”. Obviously, what a grumpy person does not want to hear is that they are, in fact, grumpy.

But I am not here trying to tell you to avoid stress, on the contrary, I am a believer that a little bit of stress can be a good thing. What I would like to explain is how to get past that shadow and remember that your words have an impact on those around you, sometimes long after they are spoken.

When we are stressed by our deadlines, we often forget to be the open-minded people we normally are. We hear ‘tone’ in emails. We hear attack in our friends’ voices. We hear demands from our teachers. And it seems to just not stop…

But a lot of the time, we are hearing something which is not there.

I am currently teaching William Shakespeare’s Macbeth to my Year 12 cohort and in Act 2 Scene 2 Lady Macbeth says:

…’tis the eye of childhood
that fears a painted devil

In the context of the play, Lady Macbeth is telling her husband to not be afraid of things to come, but there is another way to read this line so that it is relevant to us as well. Oftentimes we see or hear something which is simply not there and because of the stress we are under, the burden that we carry becomes just that little bit heavier. But are the things we see and hear simply vague ideas that only exist in our own mind? We perceive negativity because we are already in a negative state.

So how do we stop from ‘fearing the painted devil’? Well, we must presume positive intent in others.

When we purposefully look for the positive, we marginalise the negative impact on ourselves. Maybe that email we read was not sent with ‘tone’? Maybe it was concern and not judgement in the voice of our friends? Maybe our teachers are trying to push us to be our best? When we are open to the positive ‘maybe’, the weight of stress gets a little lighter.

But it has to be purposeful.

Our default position is oftentimes to be defensive and we protect ourselves against the attack from others. But maybe there is no attack at all.

There are two sides to this though. We can all presume positive intent in others, but the flip side of the coin is that we should be purposeful when selecting words as well – our intent needs to be positive when we interact with others too.

Will knowing all of the above help us handle the stress of the next couple of months? Maybe…and if it doesn’t, I have another blog that may help if the stress of school is starting to pile up.

And if all else fails, remember to visit the stall with all of the roasted nuts and sweets at the Christmas market downtown.

#ISMainfranken #IBDP