A Lesson That Will Last a Lifetime

I have been reflecting on the concept of individual responsibility in recent weeks. This is not as a result of finding my old A-Level Politics notes as part of a lockdown-inspired clearing out of the attic, but because of two high profile resignations which have emerged from the current coronavirus situation: firstly, Dr Catherine Calderwood – despite Nicola Sturgeon’s initial response that she could stay in her job as Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer – resigned from her post having been caught twice breaking her own public health advice to the Scottish people by driving over an hour to stay in her family’s holiday home in Fife; secondly, we learned last week that Professor Neil Ferguson had resigned as one of the Government’s advisors following a report in The Telegraph that he had broken the Government’s – and his own – advice by allowing his lover to visit him on at least two occasions during the lockdown.

I do not wish to use this space to pass moral judgement on either Dr Calderwood or Professor Ferguson; the current lockdown has challenged us all in many different ways and both have apologised and paid a price for their ‘errors of judgement’. But we do talk a lot at Wellington about our five core values and I am often struck at how much more difficult pupils find it to define what integrity means as a concept, when compared to kindness, courage, respect and responsibility. Invariably, the conversation ends up taking in notions of honesty, trust and trustworthiness, and a number of Wellingtonians over the years have pointed out to me how much easier it is to highlight an example of someone acting with a lack of integrity as opposed to providing a dictionary definition of what integrity actually means.

As a Classicist, I often turn to the Latin and Greek words at the heart of our own vocabulary and it is particularly instructive to do so in the case of the adjective ‘integer’. The Oxford Latin Dictionary provides no fewer than 14 separate meanings including number 5 (‘whole’ or ‘complete’ as in the mathematical term integer) and number 11 (‘unimpaired by age’, something which I wish I was!). Definition number 13, however, hits the nail on the head – ‘morally unblemished’ or ‘upright’. As human beings we are, by nature, fallible and we all make mistakes. One of the great pleasures of working in schools and with young people is watching them on that journey to self as they learn from their mistakes and become, for want of a better phrase, better human beings as a result.

But it is this idea of aiming to act with moral rectitude, having a clear moral compass and then setting one’s own behaviour to be consistent and constant with it, which is at the heart of our idea of what integrity means at the College. We aim to achieve so much within a Wellington education, but just as important as anything else we do is our desire to produce young women and men who are able to move into adulthood with the right values, traits and personal characteristics to make a positive difference to the world and in the life of others. As part of this aim, it is our firm belief that inculcating Wellingtonians with a desire to display integrity in everything which they say and do is as important an educational lesson as learning about the poetry of Keats or understanding how vertex operator algebra works. After all, Wellingtonians might forget vertex operator algebra in a few years’ time, but we hope that acting with integrity is a lesson that will last their lifetime.

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