July 28, 2021

Rector’s eNews – 28 July 2021

/ Rector's eNews

I write to you looking out over the terraces where the House flags are fluttering proudly in the morning breeze and boys are walking up to Screens. Once again, the quads resound with the purposeful steps of boys and their laughter as they make their way to lessons. The depth of friendship that emanates from a full boarding school such as Michaelhouse is something that is not easily understood by those who have not been privileged to experience it first hand and it is rewarding, once again, to feel the “buzz” in the cloisters, the quads and on the sportsfields as boys meet up with each other again and share their experiences of the times when they have been apart. There is so much to be learned in a boarding situation in terms of that critical quality of EQ. There is no better environment in which to learn to “read people” and this is partially why people who have had this privilege are able to progress to the highest level in education, business and, indeed, any sphere of human activity in which others need to be orchestrated, nurtured and developed.

As you will recall, I have been commenting on the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens which is based on Steven Covey’s celebrated Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. You might be relieved that I have eventually arrived at the seventh Habit which revolves around personal renewal in body, mind, heart and soul. The suggestion here is that there are four key ingredients to the creation of a healthy body and these lie in good nutrition, good sleeping and rising habits (note the latter), physical relaxation and proper exercise. The argument is that looking after your body becomes even more important with the approach of exams, such as matriculation exams or other important challenges in one’s life. Generally speaking, it is not difficult for the average teenager to control activities which would undermine physical wellness as long as he/she has the “refusal skill”, which means not going down the easy road when peer pressure rears its head, but sticking to his/her plan of action. Having sufficient exercise, for example, is almost a given in the Michaelhouse situation.

The mental dimension requires the development of the brain, not simply through academic lessons but through co-curricular clubs and societies, interests and the somewhat old-fashioned yet very valuable notion of hobbies. An educated mind is the best way to unlock the future for oneself. Creativity, analytical ability, the capacity to write, or to speak to groups will open up opportunities for teenagers. Intellectual capacity generally grows in young people through their twenties and an overall awareness of the thought patterns of people across the ages from Confucius and Socrates to Mandela, alongside an interest in reading and probing deeply into mathematical or scientific areas conditions the mind to generate its own fresh ideas. I was acutely aware of this during the course of this past week in interviewing two of our young Old Boys, Ryan Anderson and Liam Furniss who are now 24 and are going up to Cambridge and Oxford Universities respectively for postgraduate study. Ryan’s academic passage has seen him move through Business Science and an Honours degree in Statistics and to a Masters degree now in a field related to Artificial Intelligence, whilst Liam took triple majors in English Literature, Economics and Psychology with a related Honours degree and is now to embark on a multi-dimensional Masters in Literature and Art. They are both well set up to make a success of their careers and of life.

With regard to the next category, a teenager’s heart is a temperamental beast! Life can be an emotional roller-coaster but a good focus for teenagers is on building relationships both by what, in terms of the jargon, relates to making regular deposits into a relationship bank and a personal bank account. The relational bank account and personal bank account deposits are very similar, but strangely enough making deposits into other people’s bank accounts usually ends up by enhancing your own as well. What follows is a diagrammatic explanation of the two.

RBA (Relationship Bank Account) Deposits

  • Keep promises
  • Do small acts of kindness
  • Be loyal
  • Listen
  • Say you’re sorry
  • Set clear expectations

PBA (personal Bank Account) Deposits

  • Keep promises to yourself
  • Do small acts of kindness
  • Be gentle with yourself
  • Be honest
  • Renew yourself
  • Tap into your talents

The thought here is that we should encourage teenagers to look for ways and opportunities to build instead of to tear down and that, through engendering well-being in others, we do so in ourselves.

As Mother Theresa said, “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”

Then there are a number of ways to renew the soul. For those who are engaged with a religion, this is often the source of inspiration and power, but there are a number of other ways in which teenagers can lift their spirits. This may be in listening to music, watching a good movie, getting out onto the beach or veld, or going for a bicycle ride or keeping a journal which can act as a best friend, a confidant. This is because it strengthens one’s self-awareness and reading back on past entries, an individual can see how he has matured and grown. Talking and joking with friends can also take one out of oneself. It is a sadness that too many teenagers world-wide battle with depression and, whilst I do not want to minimise the challenge of this phenomenon, some of the steps above, taken proactively, can make a huge difference to teenagers.

In writing about the seven Habits, I have tried to suggest topics or areas which you might like to consider taking up with your son when you are able to direct a conversation away from everyday family life. There are times when he will not be receptive to your steer, as I know from first-hand experience, but there are, perhaps, times when he may be. Such moments are golden and could be around a campfire or on a long car journey when you are alone; without wanting to state the obvious or sound patronising, it is clear that parents exercise huge influence over their children, but sometimes the space for conversations is not always evident and needs to be created artificially or otherwise. I know that I missed opportunities with my own children and my hope is that a consideration of these topics over the past weeks will encourage you in your engagement with yours.

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