Friday, 22nd September 2017
This year I take the great pleasure in teaching the Form 5 boys a lesson on current affairs. I believe strongly that we should be ensuring that our boys know what's going on in the world and even more importantly, why things are going on in the world. I am sure that John Donne, the Renaissance poet and cleric, was right when he said that "No man is an island entire of itself." We live in a world where we must interact with one another and with people from throughout the world and if we are to interact with others properly, we need to understand the forces which mould them. None of us is brought up in a vacuum and so to understand what is occurring around us is crucial, I believe, to understanding who we are and who those around us are. I also believe that there are so many lessons to be learnt from what we hear in the news. Though I am generally optimistic about the general direction of the human race, one cannot deny that there is much in human affairs which is cyclical and as such we can learn from both the past and recognise in present events, things that have occurred before. By so doing, we can, if we are careful, try to avoid making the same mistakes twice. It was, of course, one of the Duke of Wellington's greatest strengths that though he made many mistakes, he never made the same mistake twice. As such, the number he made diminished quickly.
One of the topics which pupils always seem to want to discuss is North Korea and the dictatorship there. Of course it's very much in the news at the moment and so provides an instructive example of the way in which decisions and ways of governing can produce a hell on earth. I read earlier this week – this is not something which I have discussed with Form 5 - that one of Kim's favourite forms of execution is to blow up people of whom he disapproves with anti tank guns, something which often happens apparently in front of vast audiences. The advantage of this is that they disappear almost instantaneously, vaporised by a weapon designed to destroy a heavily armoured vehicle. There is, following this procedure, a few barely identifiable signs of the former individuals left. To ensure that the pristine state is not polluted by even the merest dregs of these former undesirables, tanks are then driven into the arena and the pulverised remains are then run over, so that they are completely indistinguishable from the sand helpfully spread upon the ground. That way there is no sign at all of the former individual's existence – they have been blotted from the book of life completely. This reminded me horribly of George Orwell's 1984 where the tyrannical regime, Big Bother, had as its mission to eradicate all knowledge of certain individuals. Those that the state had decided to remove disappeared completely and even newspapers were re-written with stories about those individuals edited so that there was no record of their existence. In both cases, one fictional, one, unbelievably, real, the purpose must be to spread the message that individuals only exist at the behest of the state. Individuals are worthless in themselves and only have value insofar as they serve the regime and thus if it suits the state, they can be erased entirely.
Such a view seems to me to run against everything which is life-enhancing. My sense is that an institution or country which is best designed to feed and nurture people is one that values individuals highly, that does not see them as pawns within some higher game. Obviously societies must teach individuals that they have responsibility to others, that they must contribute towards a greater good, but to ignore the needs of individuals is to create a society where no-one flourishes. At CCCS we believe very strongly in giving pupils individual attention. Classes are small, pupils are known and valued, everyone is seen as adding something to the whole. I find this a very inspiring thought and it always delights me to see the way in which so many different personalities seem to thrive here.
I have always loved old English villages. Aesthetically, even if not always actually, they seem to me to be places of utter harmony, often nestling as they do in a gentle fold in the hills. Around a green, cottages seem to lie at peace, their colourful gardens lending a sense of the bounty of nature. But if one looks carefully one notices that each individual cottage is slightly different; indeed as one thinks about it, that is one of the most important aspects of the sense of completeness. I'm sure this is the case with the most harmonious societies, that those individuals who are valued in their own right have the ease of mind and confidence to live together and to contribute towards the flourishing of all. I am sure that is the clue to healthy societies whereas regimes where individuals are not valued rarely have a sense of true harmony.
Have a good weekend.