Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 22nd May 2020
A couple of years ago, a very wise friend gave me a book by Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and philosopher who lived from 121 to 180AD. The book is called Meditations, and it is known for outlining some of the principles of what we call Stoic philosophy. Marcus Aurelius, like many Roman emperors, lived at a time of great challenge and disruption: he was facing rebellions in Egypt and Northern Italy; there were attacks from German tribes; and there was a plague pandemic. He wrote a lot during these challenges, considering and communicating how best to cope with them, and how to improve oneself morally, to live properly. He commends certain ways of living that might sound familiar to us: having ‘character and self-control’, ‘integrity’, ‘independence and unvarying reliability’, ‘kindness’, ‘persistence’, ‘a sense of humour’. He thanks those who have had a positive influence on his life, not least his teacher who taught him ‘to put up with discomfort and not make demands. To do my own work, mind my own business, and have no time for slanderers’. The Meditations have become famous for promoting a calm, steady, consistent and rational life.
You may have encountered the word ‘stoic’ recently because we use it in everyday language when someone is experiencing pain or hardship without complaining or showing their feelings. There are lots of people in the world who are currently doing this, many of whom are displaying remarkable stoicism as they work on the front line. As I have mentioned on one or two previous occasions, when faced with periods of difficulty and uncertainty, the best way to get through them effectively is to keep our heads, to do all we can to think carefully and rationally through what is happening. I am yet to meet someone who has successfully navigated a crisis through hysteria or knee-jerk emotional responses. That said, I would not like the word ‘stoic’ to become confused with the British characteristic of the ‘stiff upper lip’. You may be familiar with the latter: the idea that emotions should be neglected or deflected, that we press on regardless of the things that may hurt us.
It is totally natural to experience negative emotions, especially in times of difficulty and uncertainty. It is ok not to be ok sometimes. We have all, I suspect, had periods of nervousness, sadness and trepidation. It is how we respond to such feelings that is important for the wellbeing of ourselves and those around us. By thinking carefully and rationally, we can help to control our negative feelings, and to use our level heads to put tricky situations in perspective and to plot our way out of them. Whenever I look back at Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, I mentally tick off all of his advice that seems to be common sense. When he tells us to ‘stop being hypocritical, self-centred, irritable’ or not to be ‘constantly telling people that [we are] too busy’ (unless we really are), I nod along in agreement. Has humankind really fundamentally changed between the second century AD and today? Marcus Aurelius himself noted that ‘everything has always been the same, and keeps recurring, and it makes no difference whether you see the same things recur in a hundred years or two hundred, or in an infinite period’. Our challenges, and the ways we can respond to them, are neither new nor unique to our society. When we reach that perspective, it can be easier for us to put our own problems and concerns in context and to work out what we can usefully do next.
We have a half-term break ahead of us now, a time to put down our books and iPads, and to stand back and think carefully and rationally about what we can all do to help ourselves – and one another – navigate the next few weeks and months. Enjoy it, have a great week, and I’ll see you again soon.
Congratulations to the following boys for receiving merit certificates this week:
Finley For outstanding effort and focus on his miniature story story board
Thomas For earning excellent results in his spellings using the Nessy spelling program
Max For his commitment in Science
Alexander For a marvellous virtual postcard from the British Museum in Classics
Alexander For a wonderful childhood memory 'picture find' in Art
Jack For writing an excellent Wallace and Gromit adventure
Adam For his work on seed dispersal
Adam For an impressive discussion of miracles in RSP
Eugene For writing an excellent Wallace and Gromit adventure
Eugene For excellent comprehension extension work
Thomas For excellent comprehension extension work
Thomas For researching the meaning of SPQR in Latin and English
Jai For outstanding progress, superb effort, and lovely ideas in Creative Writing
Jake For fantastic creative writing and all round effort in his spellings
Jake For a stunning painting of a view, with perspective
Max For outstanding and detailed answers on a challenging comprehension
William For outstanding use of examples in his Geography this week
William For completing fantastic extra work on linear equations
Peter For researching the meaning of SPQR in Latin and English
Theo For his additional writing practice using the P.E.E. structure and his work on the Fast Forward program
Eddie For researching the meaning of SPQR in Latin and English
Joseph For an impressive Keith Haring style family portrait
Finn For a brilliant persuasive letter and detailed presentation on how to write one
George For working hard at his spellings using the Nessy spelling program
Alexander For a superb response to the Art projects this term
Arjun For the superb spaghetti bridge projects
Arjun For researching the meaning of SPQR in Latin and English
Ashwin For extremely thoughtful and detailed English Comprehension answers.
Jack For extremely thoughtful and detailed English Comprehension answers.
Xander For writing an excellent Wallace and Gromit adventure
Xander Gold Certificate for achieving 300 House Points
Ben T For his work on adaptations
Ben T For winning the Art and Design competition for creating a Bentley car for the future
Nathanael For brilliant independent work over this half term
Hugh For his efforts in the Sports hall Pentathlon
Jacob For an impressive 'picture find' in Art
Emil For his superb spaghetti bridge project