Dr Paul Hicks

It seems very relevant in the present time to talk about one of our key School values: Courage. Our Headmaster, Dr Paul Hicks talks about how persisting in the face of fear and carrying on in spite of it is so important today.

Except a creature be part coward, it is not a compliment to say he is brave; it is merely a loose misapplication of the word. Mark TwainPudd’nhead Wilson, 1894.

Life at times can seem frightening. Over the past summer alone, our country has faced devastating bushfires, droughts, floods, dust storms and most recently a virus which has become a global pandemic. We would be foolish to think that there is nothing to be afraid of in this world. There are many dangers in it, and sometimes there are monsters too. Fear is sometimes our friend; it prevents us from taking unnecessary risks and putting ourselves into needlessly dangerous positions. A small amount of fear can be healthy, but fear and anxiety can also be seductive, and they can ultimately become paralysing. Persisting in the face of fear, carrying on in spite of it, is the very definition of one of our key School values: Courage. As Mark Twain suggests, courage only exists in the face of fear.

Courage is sometimes physical. That sort of courage is a response to an external risk – pushing someone out of the way of an approaching car, jumping out of a plane to try skydiving, or abseiling down a cliff face. At the highest level, it can be seen in the actions of Valery Legasov, the scientist brought in to help clean up after the disastrous meltdown at Chernobyl, and who knowingly sacrificed his life to save the lives of thousands, when he exposed himself to radiation in the aftermath of the explosions.  That courage is real, and it is impressive, but Mark Twain thought that that sort of physical courage was fairly common. He argues that it was much rarer to find examples of moral courage: the courage to stand up for a belief, or to defend the rights of someone who was oppressed, or going against the crowd when the crowd is wrong.

Moral courage is often small and personal, such as a commitment to oneself to always tell the truth or not to steal. It can be the courage to reach out to a student in the playground who looks lonely, and to invite them into your game. It can be the courage to try as hard as you can to achieve something while facing the very real possibility that you might not succeed.  For some people, it can even be the courage to get out of bed in the morning in order to go to school to face another day. Many of these small acts of courage in the face of our fears go unnoticed by many, but are significant, nevertheless. And we should not underestimate the courage that these acts require, even though it is expressed quietly, and privately.

In the face of fear, reason and science can give us comfort and direction. The rational mind can guide us in the face of hysteria and panic.  Sometimes we need to work through evidence carefully before we respond with the crowd.  This too, is not always easy in a world in which the authority of ‘the expert’ has been undermined, often by cynical politicians appealing to a populist demographic.  But the experts, the people with deep knowledge and understanding, are our best defence against fear and our best hope of finding solutions.

It takes courage to remain optimistic (another of our values) when there seems to be so much going wrong around us.  And yet schools, by their very nature, are optimistic places.  Our work centres around teaching students to be the best people they can be, and to believe that we collectively have the capacity to address the issues facing our world.  That work takes courage too, and a belief in the inherent goodness of all people and the power of rational thought.  Our challenge is to nurture a spirit of optimism and courage, having faith that the good in all people, and in the brilliance of the human mind, will help us to dispel the shadows we now face.

Dr Paul Hicks, Headmaster

This article will feature in the next edition of Spectemur, out soon.