13 November 2017

Staff and Student Wellbeing

A Gentle Toughness

At different times during the year, I speak to different year groups about good manners, and I hand out a manners card. While this is something I tend to focus on with Senior School boys, I know that this is a topic which is discussed in Middle School, and Ms Turkich runs a manners programme with the Year 4s.

A gentleman, someone who behaves humbly and respectfully, is literally someone who is a gentle man. The directive to males, explicit in the word, is that we should be gentle - with ourselves, with our family and friends, and with others. Strong people do not put others down; they lift them up. The determination to show kindness more often to more people is a theme I have written about before, and it is something which I addressed with the new Year 12s at the end of Week 5.

Each time we choose to act with kindness, or we recognise the kindness of others, we help to spread the powerful message that there is a better way for human beings to behave. Acts of kindness are the practical demonstration of the belief that we can make the world a better place.

I recently attended a workshop run by former Olympic oarsman and three-time bronze medalist Bo Hansen, which had as its focus how we can develop toughness. He explained toughness as the process of knowing how to think and respond in the most productive way at a time when you are being challenged the most. It is being able to bounce back in a different way, shape or form, and it is finding another way when the one we have tried fails.

Toughness is not necessarily the capacity to endure pain, although it can be. It is really our capacity to reframe things and see things differently, as well as developing the determination to persist. One aspect of Bo's presentation which I found useful was a number of small challenges he suggested we take on - having a cold shower (which I found surprisingly invigorating, once I got past the initial shock) and giving up something you like to eat (and I have yet to succeed in giving up dark chocolate).

Whilst it may seem strange to put gentleness and toughness together, I think that these are both important qualities to possess, and are by no means mutually exclusive. A key part of demonstrating both is a willingness to take responsibility for how we behave. We must believe that we can make a difference to the trajectory of our own lives as well as to the fortunes of others. Another shared element is the willingness to challenge ourselves to respond differently, and to see others and events in a more positive light. We can establish a new norm by doing so.

I believe that we have a responsibility to teach young people to be tough and, at the same time, we should be teaching them to be gentle. Furthermore, we must talk to them so that they begin to understand when each is required. I believe that the young men in our care need to be aware of when it is necessary and appropriate to stand up and speak out, and when they should sit down and be quiet; when to resist and when to love; when to hold on and when to let go.

As Han Suyin said, "There is nothing stronger in the world than gentleness."

Director of Student and Staff Wellbeing
Mr James Hindle