“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
― Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
In his compelling autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela profiles his early life, his coming of age, education and the victimisation he endured through his many years of imprisonment. In this book, he offers the aforementioned quote. The former President of the United States, Barack Obama, has reminded us of this powerful quote in recent days, in his tweet to the world, following the despicable violence and racial attack in Charlottesville, and presumably in response to statements made by the President of the United States.
I am not sure how any person could argue that Mandela’s statement is wrong in any way, shape or form. Yet, if this is indeed true, why do we continue to see racism, prejudice, bigotry, intolerance and discrimination in so many parts of society? While the recent events in Charlottesville have shocked us, there are many examples of such behaviours far closer to home, extending from our streets, to our Parliament.
Within a school context, there are times when young people make hurtful statements to others. Sometimes they have no idea of the pain they cause others in doing so; sometimes they have no knowledge of the meaning behind their words, but have heard them spoken by others; sometimes they do so without thinking; and sometimes they do indeed speak such words to deliberately hurt another without understanding the true gravity of their words.
I do not believe that any child is born with such racist views pre-programmed as a result of their biology, and as such, these statements or views can be reduced to a genuine lack of understanding or an attitude and belief that has developed over time. It is vital that as a community, we continue to expect the total acceptance of all people, and the absolute absence of racism, prejudice, bigotry, intolerance and discrimination. The formation of any of these intolerable attitudes and beliefs is in direct conflict with our values.
In a similar vein, we must continue to visualise the nature of the young man or woman we want our child/ren to be in the years ahead, the values we wish them to espouse, and then seek every opportunity we can for the growth and development of their character, their values, and their ethics.
This means accepting that no child and no person is perfect, and that we all make mistakes. Further, we must acknowledge that such mistakes are opportunities to help grow our child, and that when we blindly accept “my child does no wrong” or “my child would never do this”, we miss a valuable opportunity to help in the growth of that young man or woman.
Whether it be making such mistakes as those noted above, or displaying behaviours that isolate, belittle, or make another feel uncomfortable in any way, we should all want better for our children. We are the only ones who can truly direct their behaviour, and we are the ones ultimately responsible for the development and shaping of their value base. This can be a challenging scene to address, but if we remain silent we can expect neither change, understanding nor growth.
It is so heart-warming to see the manner in which the young people of our College embrace and welcome others to our campus, engage with each other and our community. It is clear that the vital life lessons between home and the College are in such wonderful unity in so many families. This is one of the reasons why our students are so well regarded in the broader community, and by the many organisations with whom we work each and every year.
The development of character is central to our Vision, to develop young men and women of character – leaders now and for the future, and this is the foundation for many of the finer attributes we see in our students. I am so often told that our students stand out as clear and shining examples of our College against all other schools. Our numerous guests on the College Open Day, who were in awe of our students, their manners, confidence, maturity and presence, echoed this only yesterday.
Sadly, there are many examples of poor behaviour in our world, and while we may be unable to change such behaviours in broader society, we can certainly maintain our strongest commitment to not merely expect the absence of poor behaviour but, rather, the presence of positive engagement, acceptance, and respect for all. These positive practices stem from our values and our lived motto of Excellence, Care and Commitment.
These essential values remain strong in our community, and must remain so for all in our community.