A Toast to the Tribe

It is so lovely to have a brilliant new Chaplain and Father Adrian delivered another thoughtful and thought-provoking address in midweek Chapel last week. He mused upon the material nature of human existence, reflecting that although virtual Wellington has been excellent, enabling mind to meet mind, it is no replacement for human interaction in the flesh. Online meetings are not a full picture of what it means to be engaged in meaningful human relationships. As Father Adrian said, “We are embodied people, human beings. Matter matters.”

This made me consider how deep our human desire for social interaction is. We crave to be part of something bigger than ourselves as embodied human beings. We make meaning by engaging with society and by being generous and proactive members of the various communities to which we belong. We are social animals and we are tribal. Thatcher, of course, famously said, “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” Our current PM contradicted this endorsement of pure individualism only a few months ago as he recovered from COVID-19. When talking about defeating the virus BoJo said, “We are going to do it, we are going to do it together. One thing I think the coronavirus crisis has already proved is that there really is such a thing as society.”

We talk a lot about being individual at Wellington. This isn’t rampant individualism – we don’t want our pupils to act with self-interest at all times. Rather, we want the Wellington experience to be one where they feel comfortable to be their authentic self, where they spend five years on a journey exploring and developing every facet of their being so they graduate having become the best version of their true self possible. One of the most simple yet powerful sayings I have heard in recent years is the Jewish proverb, “If I pretend to be them, then who will be me?” Quite.

We also talk a lot about the concept of being independent at Wellington. Again, this isn’t rampant independence in the sense that we want all Wellingtonians to be entirely self-sufficient at all times. Life isn’t like that. In Steven Covey’s best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he talks about the journey which all humans complete: from being a baby completely dependent on one’s parents; through childhood where it is our innate urge to be as independent as possible; to the mature realisation that human beings are interdependent – “we need to combine our own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve the greatest success.”

We all belong to numerous tribes and I asked Wellingtonians in Assembly this morning to consider the tribes to which they belong. Their family? House? Music ensemble? Sports Team? Religion? Nation? Tribes give us identity; they give us a sense of belonging; they give us meaning; they help us understand and frame the world around us; they give us great strength. But when things get tough and go wrong, that can often be accompanied by a human desire to find blame, a want to feel better somehow. This often heightens the tribal instinct, which can end up as the need to blame others and to defend one’s own tribe even when we are partly or fully at fault. There are two sides to the tribal coin.

This week was meant to be the week building up to Speech Day – the single most important event in the calendar which celebrates the tribe which is the Wellington College Community.  I cannot begin to tell you how sad I am that my first Speech Day as Master will not be happening in its usual and well-loved form. As you may know, however, we have tried to do the very best we can, given the circumstances, and many of your daughters and sons have been working hard on video contributions which will be edited together into a virtual Speech Day. Mr Clements, as always, has masterminded the entire thing brilliantly, and we will be sending you the link to the Speech Day film before Saturday. Watch out, too, for the virtual Eve of Speech Day Concert.

I trust this year’s Speech Day film brings you the joy and happiness which should be part of life in every tribe. Like so much of our existence currently, it will not be the same as the real thing, but I hope it is a fitting celebration of our wonderful pupils, particularly the Upper Sixth, and their achievements this year. We miss you all terribly and I will be raising a glass of something cold and fizzy to the entire Wellington Community on Saturday lunchtime. And it will not be a virtual glass…


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