Control the controllables

Having grown up in the UK, my picture of January is of short wet days and long dark nights. As a consequence, I’ve never really thought too highly of New Year’s Resolutions having to be made at a time when we (I’m assuming that you feel the same way) are all at something of a low ebb. I suppose it is different in Australia where sunny optimism would find a warm and glowing home. I will have to check with our Antipodean community. This year it is perhaps difficult or perhaps even a little dangerous to look too far ahead.

The Stockdale Paradox was made popular by a number of business writers in the early 2000s and was based on the reminiscences of James Stockdale who spent many years in a prisoner of war camp. Stockdale explained that when faced with a difficult situation hope can be a dangerous thing. He counselled that “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

This year has seen its fair share of awfulness already and there is the small matter of COVID. On Monday morning a young man lost his life in a bicycle accident on one of the roads around our school, we have pupils who are missing school due to COVID and are unwell, there is uncertainty over exams, and we have to accept the possibility that there will be a further lockdown. We can’t do what we want to, activities are curtailed, travel is limited, and our horizons are being drawn in. Many people are concerned about what the rest of the year will bring and rightly so, for we have been warned that there is likely to be more to endure before we see the back of this particular challenge.

I suspect that I’ve written before of my interest in the wisdom of the ancients. Once upon a time I thought I was a Stoic, I’m less sure of that now but we might well be wise to consider what Epictetus wrote of the process of well, getting on with getting on: “What, then, is to be done? To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it naturally happens.”

Epictetus – Greek Stoic Philosopher

Translated into the language of the everyday I think that what both William Stockdale and Epictetus are saying is: wear your bicycle helmet when riding to school; drive carefully and slowly near school; make the best use of each day that you have with both your friends and those who teach you; wear your mask for the good of the community as well as yourself, wash your hands and take time to appreciate what we have rather than what we are missing.

“Stuff” will undoubtedly occur this term. Some of it will be expected, some will be welcome, and some will be a right pain. We can’t afford to slip into the January blues of which I wrote, we should look to celebrate each day that we have at school remembering that many do not have this enormous privilege of education. Taking time to do the basics (however boring) might mean that we will enjoy this for longer. That is, perhaps, something to look forward to.

Nicholas Hammond