Last week I spoke about our four core values,
responsibility, integrity, curiosity and endeavour, in the context of a heroic
young soldier who recently won a VC in Afghanistan. But sometimes, when we talk about values like
this, the examples used can seem so far removed from our own experience that it
really does mean very little to us; how can we hope to behave like that young
man did – Joshua Leakey won a VC because the vast majority of mankind would not
have had the courage to do what he did.
So allow me a few minutes today on the notion of
responsibility that we can relate to. We
all know what it means, but usually when we think of responsibility in a school
context we are considering positions of responsibility – Head of School,
monitors, Captains of Sport, Chairs of Committees and so on. Yet these are not really positions of
responsibility, but rather they are leadership positions given to those who
have displayed a heightened sense of responsibility throughout their time at
Every single person in this room holds positions of
responsibility. If you are left back in
the 15C team, you are nevertheless the only person in that team in that
position – it is yours; nobody else will help you when the right wing is
bearing down upon you. If you are one of
several trumpets in the band, your mistake (if you make one) will nevertheless
ring out and reflect the whole band’s efforts.
If you are simply sitting in a classroom taking part in a maths lesson,
your contribution to that lesson, positive or negative, makes a difference to
everyone’s experience of that period.
Even now, as you sit here, you hold a position of responsibility in any
number of ways: to the school, to your family, to wider society and of course to
yourself. We here are all very
privileged and, as I said at the start of last term, with privilege comes
responsibility. There is no such thing as a life free from responsibility.
A word I like more than most, and which has gone way out
of fashion over the years, is duty.
Boarders will understand duties well, be it your turn to clear up the
house kitchen or to supervise prep. But
we all have them. To whom and to what do
you feel a duty? Is it your duty to go
out of your way to help someone in distress?
Is it your duty to play for a team on a miserable February afternoon
miles from school when you wish you were elsewhere? Is it your duty to help backstage when you
have been the recipient of so much help in your own acting career so far? Joshua Leakey felt a duty to his mates and to
the badge of his parachute regiment. Duty
is one of those “deep breath” words. You
don’t always want to do it, so you have to take a deep breath and remind
yourself that you ought to do it for the sake of some greater good; and indeed
an acute sense of duty also helps build self-respect – if you can help a
greater cause despite sometimes simply not feeling like it, it will build your
own sense of belonging and well-being.
The greatest power of all is collective responsibility. Imagine if we all, in this room, took collective
responsibility for each other; and collective responsibility for the values of
the school; and collective responsibility for our futures. Imagine what 700 could achieve. You do not have to agree with each other all
the time; you can enjoy debate, disagreement and even fall out. But if we subscribe to the same core values, if
we sign up to them and try our hardest to live by them, then we can achieve
great things. Please think about it this
week, and remember that we are all, every one of us, holding positions of
Let us pray:
Lord, thank you for this school. Help us to cherish it and to protect its
values. Enable us to grow in wisdom and