I began this note with the idea that I would write something about Truth, but a book I received on Thursday afternoon changed my mind. Entitled ‘The Female Lead’, the objective is to provide a resource for girls to identify role models in society, to help and inspire women everywhere to realise their hopes and ambitions. In a series of stories about the challenges and work undertaken by a variety of women, the book lauds battles against adversity, sets out humbling stories of triumph against all the odds and with more than a nod to Polonius, the virtue of being true to oneself. In a wealth of fascinating detail, one of the more beguiling sections of each story is where each woman was asked to choose an object which meant something to them. Photo-journalists choose cameras, writers choose typewriters and many choose journals. In fact, the journal was by far the most common object chosen and for much the same reason; the women were keen to look back over their recorded thoughts, to see how they had grown and changed over decades through the experiences they had and arrived at themselves.
It did seem as if, in the business of getting on with life, they had no time to notice or no opportunity to witness the changes that came over them. I think the truth here and the reason for this is that it is in fact the events of life that were creating the change and shaping them to be the people they had become. In one story, Samantha Power, United States ambassador to the United Nations (UN), explained that her object was a framed political cartoon which she keeps in the office. In one panel its shows a UN official asking an assembly “who wants change?” A sea of hands is raised enthusiastically in a uniform desire to see difference. The second panel sees the same official ask “who wants to change?” This time all heads are lowered avoiding eye contact and no hands are raised. The cartoon reflects a truth, that we desire to see difference in the world, we desire to see change, but we are reluctant to be the one to change. I wonder if that is a truth or truism? I will leave it to you to consider if the conditions for Truth are met.
I applaud the authors of the book for their efforts and the contributors for their stories, they are wonderful moments where individuals facing intolerance or injustices in some form have triumphed in adversity. There is a temptation though to normalise the sensational and for the followers of some media forms; to sensationalise the normal. I am privileged to work with pupils and colleagues who are daily affecting change and seeing difference realised in sensational ways. But because it is routine and because it is within our context it goes unremarked by headlines. I think it is true to say that while we are staring at far away hills and marvelling at their verdant nature, we see less clearly the sensational happening among us, that is certainly true. The sensational here being:
… best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love
Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey
One central truth in school is the process of change. As we edge closer to the end of this term, the Head Girl and Head Boy have changed and Clemmie and Hal are welcomed, there is more on this elsewhere in these pages. I look back with great fondness on the interactions I have had with Charlotte and Steve, they have been fabulous representatives of all we hold dear as a school. Theirs is a challenging role, called on to be ambassadors, to meet and greet and to address a variety of audiences, while at the same time living their lives, getting on with their studies and growing as individuals because of, not in spite of, all of these experiences. They lead Student Council and act as liaison with staff and the student body with a diplomacy and delicacy that would put professionals to shame and frequently does. In everything they have exuded authenticity, they have been unflappable – well mostly unflappable, and worthy representatives of the student body. Jointly they have affected change, they have become what they are and in doing so continue to represent the process of formation which is central to our school.
So, reader, I set out to write about Truth and ended up writing about the process of change. Well maybe I was writing about Truth all along. In the process of Being is the act of Becoming, it is only by acting in the world that we can realise ourselves and to be true to ourselves is to have changed often. You are what you can become, the call then, is to become what you are.
Cliff Canning, Headmaster, Embley