Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 27th November 2020
Maybe it’s because I’m a Spurs fan. Maybe it’s because I spent my formative years watching the English football team get so close, but never quite close enough. Maybe it’s because my ‘house’ at school usually came last or second-to-last. Whatever the reason, I learnt at a fairly young age to become accustomed to ‘losing’. Not only that, but I had to develop strategies to cope with the concept, as unpleasant as it may have seemed at the time. Today we call this ‘resilience’ – but I don’t think such a concept was articulated at my school; we were just expected to get on with it and work it out for ourselves. There may be a virtue in that – part of being resilient is falling back on one’s own resources, avoiding the all-too-easy blame game, and not expecting someone else to sort out all our problems. But if we can get our pupils used to not winning all the time, it is probably a useful skill for their future lives.
Don’t get me wrong – I wish our boys every success in the future. I expect them to be successful, and happy in their success. It is good to win (and sometimes to win bigly). But not every prep can get a ‘10’. Not everyone can be the first team captain. Not every team can win every match. And while we can go to great efforts to spread responsibilities around, or to schedule fixtures that will lead to a morale-maintaining success rate, we have to appreciate that the f-word (failure) might sometimes rear its head. Not that I really like that word – we are big believers here in ‘not yet’ over ‘not’; deferred success, or ‘failing upwards’, perhaps. While it may seem that we are euphemising ourselves away from cruel realities, I would rather we took this middle road: between the gut-punching ‘F’ and the unrealistic ‘everyone’s a winner’ approach to life. The reality is that, once the boys get into the real world, there will be far fewer people caring about their feelings and providing the soft landing when something hasn’t gone quite right. And while there is a particular brand of parenting (not prevalent among NCS parents, I hasten to add) that takes on a second career in ensuring that their children never not succeed, that approach simply doesn’t last in the long-run, when those children face adversity for the first time and collapse into a mess. Such an approach is actually crueller: it just delays the inevitable and makes that inevitable harder to bear. (I should add that there is a tiny minority of people out there who have never ‘failed’ at anything, but they are often insufferable and are perhaps best avoided.)