Andrew Webster, Head of School, addressed the W+H community at the 139th Convocation Ceremony on Sept. 10, 2021, marking the beginning of the school year. Below are Mr. Webster's closing remarks:
One of the books I read this summer is called Who Do We Choose To Be. It’s about being a leader amidst the profound challenges our society faces. Early in the book, the author quotes a Tibetan Buddhist teacher named Chogyam Trungpa, who wrote:
"We cannot change the way the world is, but by opening to the world as it is we may discover that gentleness, decency and bravery are available, not only to us, but to all human beings."
In thinking about how we want to live as a community, the phrase “we may discover that gentleness, decency, and bravery are available” to us struck me as interesting. To begin with, he uses the word discover, which suggests that these qualities are obscured, maybe buried under less worthy things, and we need to seek them out. We may discover – which means it’s not a sure thing – we may not discover them; the outcome is up to us, if we choose to make the right efforts.
So let’s pull those qualities into the light and examine them. Gentleness, decency, and bravery. Who can tell me what gentleness is? Can any of you give an example of when you felt gentleness this year?
Nothing in the world is more gentle than water, yet nothing is stronger. Water nurtures life, yet cuts through solid rock (it also floods basements and A-Deck classrooms, as we’ve learned again recently). Overcome obstacles with the strength of gentleness. ~ The Book of Tao, 78
The strength of gentleness is a nice phrase. It takes a strong person to be truly gentle, to be kind when maybe others are being cruel. It is a form of bravery, and a form of decency.
Decency may seem like a modest virtue; it’s not showy or exciting but is behavior that is good, moral, and acceptable in society. According to the brilliant actress Helen Mirren, “this notion of decency is disappearing from our society where conflicts are made worse on cinema and on television, where people are nasty and cruel on the Internet and where, in general, everybody seems to be very angry.” Those are urges and tendencies we need to avoid.
Bravery. Another author points out "It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends." It can take bravery to act with decency and gentleness. Remember that “the opposite of bravery is not cowardice, but conformity.”
If we can all discover how to act with bravery, decency, and kindness, we will make this the sort of community in which people can shine by being who they truly are. What a gift to give to one another.