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Almost all of our students will complete the VIA Character Strengths survey at some point during their time at SPSC. It is a survey put out by the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia in the United States. The survey helps students identify their particular strengths. It is one of several helpful tools available to students, as part of our Wellbeing program. The survey lists 24 strengths overall: things like kindness, love and capacity to be loved, forgiveness, open-mindedness, spirituality, hope, sense of humour, perseverance, teamwork and so on. Humility is one of them.

I remember when one of my sons did the Character Strengths survey here at SPSC a few years ago. Humility came out as his top character strength and he was almost disappointed. I kind of understood why. It’s not really an exciting character strength; it’s not like sense of humour or leadership. Humility is a trait people never fail to undervalue. The character Dumbledore says the same thing about kindness in the Harry Potter series. Often people undervalue humility. In fact, humility is a really powerful character strength. Humility reminds me of a young oak tree – stay with me as I explain the metaphor. Oak trees are not much to look at when they’re young. They take a while to mature. Yet, when they do, they grow into the most impressive of trees and they live for centuries (there are some over one thousand years old). It’s just that they take a while to mature.

Humility was a quality much prized by Jesus. If you do an analysis of Jesus’ interactions with people, the only people he ever really got cross with were those who showed a complete lack of humility, along with a lack of kindness and forgiveness. He was remarkably accepting of people who recognised their own shortcomings, who realised that they needed forgiveness, who were humble in other words.

The danger for all people is that, at our worst, we can become intolerant of others. The more success one enjoys, the greater the temptation to look down on other people. It doesn’t happen automatically; not everyone who is successful looks down on others, but it is a risk.

True humility is not about denying that you’re good at something – that’s false humility. True humility is about being aware of the gifts God has given you and using them to build others up. It’s about accepting who you are, who God has made you to be, and excelling at that!

There is also an incredible freedom, which being humble can give you. If you know you are not perfect, and you accept that, then you are free just to “be you”. As the expression goes, “You just do you!” That is actually liberating. You don’t have to be perfect, which is great, because then you are free to be the exceptional version of who you really are, not who others want you to be.

I have done quite a lot of writing over the years: writing my talks for Chapel and Muster, writing articles for the school newsletter, several years ago writing my PhD through Flinders University. Do you know what the hardest part of writing is? The first word! The first word is the most difficult: just opening up the word document and staring at the blank page is a common experience.

An artist friend of mine helped me enormously in this respect. She said that the hardest part of drawing for her was the very first mark on the page, because it would never be perfect! She said, “Think about it, a blank piece of paper or a blank canvas is perfect! It’s utterly boring, but it’s perfect! Only imperfection makes it interesting, but the imperfection makes it much more interesting!”

None of us is perfect, which is such a relief to hear, because then we can be exceptionally interesting. We can be the person God truly wants us to be: the most vibrant version of who we already are!

The Reverend Dr Theo McCall
School Chaplain