Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 22nd January 2021
Anyone who knows me well knows that I am not very good at being told what to do. When I was growing up, I tidied my bedroom grudgingly and only after a large enough gap between my mum telling me to do so, and me actually doing it. It was, I suppose, a statement that I would conform, but on my own terms. When we are allowed to go to restaurants, I quite like to decide which one I go to. I don’t mind trying out other people’s suggestions, but there’s a little bit of me (a large bit of me) that is quite gleeful when those suggestions turn out not to be as good as my choices. I was watching one of my favourite TV programmes the other day, and in one scene the main character was criticised by his girlfriend for always going to the same restaurant, or if that one were closed, for always going to the same second choice. The main character gave in, went to his girlfriend’s choice of restaurant, but the food was so bad that they left and went back to the main character’s first choice. ‘Yes!’, I wanted to shout at the TV, ‘that’s me!’.
So it is interesting to be living at a time when we are being told what to do (or what not to do) a lot of the time. Although I don’t particularly like being told what to do on small things like where or what I eat, it turns out that I am reassuringly law-abiding when it comes to lockdown regulations. Maybe that’s because, despite my protestations, deep down I’m not really that much of a rebel when it comes to the important things – things that, for example, will help keep other people alive. During the first lockdown, I even walked round and round the College garden because we were told it was still important to exercise, and this was permitted outdoor exercise that kept me away from other people, even though I’d never done so before and I probably won’t do again. During this second lockdown I have made peace with the physical limitations that are placed on me, on all of us, and I simply don’t understand it when people protest that their individual liberty is being breached when they can’t have a turkey lunch with a dozen people. One way to get through this second lockdown, it seems, is to make peace with the situation and to accept that there are going to be downs and ups, frustrations and perhaps surprising joys. That is not to imply that I will spinelessly concede when I see incompetence or unfairness, but it is to accept what the American theologian Reinhold Nieburh put so well: ‘the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference’.