In my 20 years of teaching I have heard an endless number of quotes and inspirational phrases, designed to motivate students to consider their own character, work ethic, empathy and place in the world. In my first position, teaching Legal Studies and Economics at Westminster School, I was fortunate to take all my classes in the same room. I had inspirational quotes spattered around the classroom walls, also designed to motivate students to consider their own character.
There were two quotes that generated the most conversations.
The first was “The early bird gets the worm. But the second mouse gets the cheese”. My students loved to throw that quote back at me if they were ever late to class or failed to hand in an assignment on time. I probably should have taken that quote down at some stage.
But it was another quote that instead being a source of banter between teacher and student, actually made them stop and think: “Character is what you do when nobody is watching.”
I have heard this quote, or variations of it, over many years but I think the quote is attributed to American College basketball coach, John Wooden. It is the one quote I love to use, more than any other, when I speak to our students.
Authenticity is something we aspire for each of our students to realise. To be one’s true self is not always easy. Peer pressure is a common obstacle. It takes a degree of courage to be one’s self. American philosopher and poet Henry David Thoreau said, “Be yourself, not your idea of what you think somebody else’s idea of yourself should be.” It is indeed a courageous young man who honestly looks into the mirror and even tries to see who they really are, let alone make the discovery as to who is that person staring back at him.
Being an authentic person resonates seamlessly with the School’s value of truth. The pursuit of truth, in particular the pursuit to uncover the truth about yourself, is a challenging journey for a young man to travel. It is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job to see boys becoming young men, as they discover who they truly are.
The journey doesn’t come without risk, as Mother Teresa said “Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.” This is difficult for a young man. Even after they finally start to unravel the mystery of their true self, it is a huge risk to show that person out to the world. Trying to overcome doubt is a natural, almost instinctive, reaction to the thought of total transparency and vulnerability.
This is why support, both at home and at School, is so pivotal. Once a boy discovers his authenticity, it is imperative that he has an environment where he feels he can comfortably be that same person. Sometimes this place will be at home first, but then withdraws at School to better fit in. Sometimes it is around his friends or teammates that he is his true self. Our boys are very lucky to have loving families, close friends, and our pastoral care and House system to encourage them and give them the confidence to find their authentic self.
If I could ask for but one thing for our students, it would be that they can discover their authenticity. Undoubtedly character is what you do when nobody is watching, and as Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung noted “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”
Head of Senior Years