From the Head Master

Being let down by someone really hurts.

I spoke to the MS/SS boys on Quad this week about that experience of being let down. It can happen in friendships, or with a loved one, or a work colleague. I imagine that it has happened to most of us, many times. Someone tells you that they would do something, and then they didn’t follow through. They said they would come to something, but they didn’t. They said that something was under control, and it turns out that it wasn’t. The betrayal hurts.

I described to the boys the corrosive effect that this has on relationships. If someone lets you down, you start to lower your expectations of them. You no longer take their word for granted. You start to become a bit more guarded, holding back a bit, protecting yourself from disappointment. In the end, you stop trusting the other person.

It seems to me that trust is the foundation of relationships, and relationships with others are the fabric of life. More than our achievements, more than our bank balance, more than our success by all the usual measures, relationships are what really matters for the quality of our lives – and trust is the essential ingredient.

Of course, it is not just about whether you can trust the other person; it is also about whether they can trust you. Being trustworthy is what enables us to have good relationships. If you are trustworthy, other people will support you, they will open up to you, and they will commit to you. They will be there for you, just as you are for them.

So if relationships are what matters in life, and trustworthiness is necessary for relationships, how does someone become trustworthy? How does this become part of our character?

Our character traits are basically habits. It is the way we are, because it is what we do. Character is revealed in the big moments, but it is formed in the little ones. If you want to be a trustworthy person, you need to start with being dependable in little things.

This brings me to my particular point of concern. On Saturdays, most of our boys will pull on the School colours and compete for the School in one sport or another. Sometimes this happens at Summer Hill or another local ground; sometimes it will require them to travel to the Eastern Suburbs, or the upper North Shore. Being in a team requires our boys to think in a wider frame than just themselves. They must rely on one another and they need each other.

From time to time, it is reported to me that a small number of boys choose not to turn up to a Saturday game. It is more common on wet days. It is more common for fixtures away from home. It is more common in lower-grade teams. It is a situation that concerns me deeply, because I suspect that some of the time, the boys are taking their obligations lightly.

Of course, there are legitimate reasons why a boy may not be able to be present on a Saturday. Injuries, illness, and circumstances beyond control can all play a role.

However, I am concerned that some of the time our boys may be seeing their commitment as something that they can opt into or out of. In short, they may be developing the habit of being untrustworthy. Their peers and their peers’ parents and their coaches and teachers, know the pain of being let down.

I am writing to parents about this, as well as speaking to the boys, as parents have an invaluable role in helping the boys to frame their thinking about Saturday sport, as well as enabling whichever path the boys take. We all know that it would be easier to stay in bed. It would be easier not to face the traffic. It would be easier not to get cold and wet. However, it is exactly this experience of carrying through a commitment, even when it is hard, that helps our boys to learn to become trustworthy.

I entirely understand that this battle may be the last one that you feel like having on a Saturday morning, as a recalcitrant, cranky and sleepy adolescent refuses to budge. If you come to the end of your resources in encouraging your son to carry through his obligations, my request is this:

Don’t cover for him. Don’t write him a note to excuse him. Don’t teach him that you will dig him out of a hole of his own making. Don’t advocate for him against the School. Rather, let him experience the natural and proportionate consequences that the School puts in place. Instead of a note saying that he is sick, write a note saying that he was not prepared to turn up. Let the School deal with it, and support us as we do so.

There are ways to deal with the challenges of getting to Saturday sport. Car-pooling is always a good idea. Building a treat into the day on the way home can become a weekly highlight. Redeeming the time, by using the invaluable opportunity of shoulder-to-shoulder extended periods in a car with your son for conversation. All these can help to reframe the Saturday experience, which is a core aspect of our School’s vision for education in mind, body and spirit.

I also need to acknowledge that the vast majority of School families are beyond reproach in this matter, and would no more contemplate dodging Saturday sport than they would contemplate committing a crime. The School is deeply appreciative of your partnership, as are all the other boys and their families who have the same level of commitment.

Parents and the School are working together to shape young men of whom we can be proud. A trustworthy young man, who knows the importance of fulfilling his obligations and who is in the habit of doing so, is well-prepared to build a good life in the decades to come.

Detur Gloria Soli Deo.

Tim Bowden | Head Master


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