Three short items today, all of which pertain to the second half of this term.
Item 1. Health
When I was about 27 years old and living in Australia, I went to a conference in Sydney where we were asked to prioritise a list of ten things in life. There is a good chance that you have been asked the same thing yourselves. The usual suspects were there on the list: family, friends, money, health, hobbies, holidays etc. and we were asked to rank them 1-10, with 1 being the most important and 10 being the least important to us personally. Looking back at this now, with hair starting to grey, I can scarcely believe that, at that time, I put health at number 10. I had never really been ill myself; I had played plenty of injury-free sport; and I had never had to live through someone close to me being ill either. Frankly, I took health completely for granted.
There are, I know, many of you who do not have that luxury; but it may also be that there are some of you in here today who feel the same way; for some of you, health may simply have not been a factor in your life at all yet. It is to this group in particular that I send a message now. Movember is just around the corner and I urge you all to keep your eyes open. You do not have to look far for examples of where ill health has really affected someone’s life – in this hall, certainly, or to previous members of the Bedford Community or to family members of friends and acquaintances. The key is that if it can happen to them, then it can happen to us all. We should never take good health for granted. So please support Movember with all your hearts again this year and good luck to those who are pouring their time and effort into making it another successful year, both educationally and financially.
Item 2. Proportion
Someone came to one of my open doors recently and asked me what was the key to a happy life. Now that is as hard a question as I have ever been openly asked; and maybe the best place to find out more is the RE department, whose teaching of religion, philosophy and ethics, spans millennia of people trying to answer that exact question. However, it does seem to me that a good sense of proportion ought to come into the equation somewhere. The reason this is interesting for this half of term is that we have Remembrance Sunday coming up, unarguably one of the most important days of the year and a day which serves to remind us of perspective in our own lives. The sheer scale of atrocity in the Wars of the twentieth century, and sadly since, is brought home to us by our own Memorial Hall, one of the most significant buildings on our site, which commemorates 756 lost lives in the two World Wars from one school alone. That is an awful lot of families and friends and wives and children affected in our community. And not even from one town; but just one single school in that town. Even then, it is worth thinking of the further fallout – of the ruined lives of those who came back, the physically injured, the mentally scarred, those who lived the horrors of war for the rest of their days. It does tend to make me think a bit at any rate. There are lots of things which do not go our way in our own lives, lots of disappointments and failures; but if we preserve a sense of proportion, we can get through them well enough. I wish you all the best in all your endeavours in the second half of this term, and do, all of you, work hard for success – and in particular I think to those who are applying for university; but if, in the end, with all your hard work spent, things do not work out, then please remember this little section of today’s talk. Perspective and proportion.
Item 3. Discipline
It is a shame that the word discipline, particularly in a school context, seems somehow inextricably linked to the word punishment and therefore takes a negative connotation. For me, the word most closely associated with discipline should be respect and discipline is therefore entirely positive. Let me explain a philosophy to you. I genuinely do not think that any group of people, and arguably any individual, can be happy without good discipline; and this applies directly to a school. Those who disrupt lessons, those who do not play by the rules in boarding houses, those who arrive permanently late to class and thereby interrupt proceedings, those who ruin games practices or drama sessions, those who belittle others, or those who feel they are above the basic discipline of their communities, create difficulty and upset for their peers and show them no respect. We are a happy school because we have mercifully little of this; well done to you. However, I do not want you to take this for granted in the second half of term either. So stick up, please, all of you, for good discipline and basic respect at all times.
So there we are for today – the second half of this term: engage with Movember, retain a sense of proportion and maintain your discipline and you will all be learning a bit about how to love life.