Painting over the Cracks
Headmaster’s Routh Assembly Address
Monday 22nd November 2021
Excerpt from ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky
“Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie, comes to a point where he does not discern any truth, either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others.
Not respecting anyone, he ceases to love, and having no love, he gives himself up to passions and coarse pleasures in order to occupy and amuse himself, and in his vices reaches complete bestiality, and it all comes from lying continually to others and himself.
A man who lies to himself is often the first to take offense. It sometimes feels very good to take offense, doesn't it? And surely he knows that no one has offended him, and that he himself has invented the offense and told lies just for the beauty of it, that he has exaggerated for the sake of effect, that he has picked up on a word and made a mountain out of a pea.”
Good Morning. Like any School, our desire is to create people who are not just smart, but also good. We don’t help the world much if we turn you all into clever devils. Not much point if you end up blessed with great intelligence, but lacking the moral purpose to do good with what you know. And so, right from when you start in the Nursery or Pre-Prep, we try an impress upon you the importance of acting with integrity. Being kind. Being respectful. Being honest.
Teaching you not to lie is actually pretty easy. By the time you become a teenager, it is usually fairly evident that lying just makes things worse. “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” and all that. We all accept that occasionally people make mistakes. Usually there is a consequence for your transgression and then we all move on. Unless you lie about it. In which cases the sanction gets a whole lot bigger. But by and large, the vast majority of you don’t lie. At least not to us. But what about to yourselves?
This year marks the 10th anniversary of a large earthquake that struck my home country of New Zealand. Two big jolts in fact, that claimed 180 lives and badly damaged the city of Christchurch.
My eldest son, who is an artist, was living in the city at the time, finishing a Masters in Fine Arts. Like most University students, and certainly like most young artists, he was perpetually broke at the time. Poor as a church-mouse and constantly looking for part-time work. I had pretty much despaired of him ever finding a job, which are scarce enough for university students anyway, but harder still when you are a long-haired hippy artist.
However, I was pleasantly surprised when he called me one day and told me that he had gained a job working for the Earthquake Recovery Authority.
This was an organisation set up by the government to help people rebuild the city in the years that followed the quakes. Lots of large buildings had collapsed in rubble, but many others had suffered only external damage. The majority of buildings in NZ made of wood, which is quite handy in an earthquake, because timber bends. But Christchurch was founded by English settlers, who did what was familiar to them and clad most of their houses and buildings in brick. Not surprisingly, after all the violent swaying of the earthquakes, that brickwork often cracked. Not enough to collapse, but enough to look really unsightly.
So, my artist son was hired by the Earthquake Recovery Authority to paint over the cracks. Literally. His job was to go to various large public buildings and use his eye for colour and texture to mix paint into plaster in the exact same shade as the brick cladding. Then he would hang out of windows, or abseil from the roof, to hide the large cracks on a building’s facade.
The logic being that it was cheaper than actually replacing the bricks. And more reassuring. As you might imagine, after living through two terrifying quakes, people were understandably nervous about entering public buildings that had large cracks visible outside. It seemed better if things looked perfect.
Hence, Sam tootled off to disguise these cracks each day. For a while, I think he quite enjoyed the work. It was a test of his artistic ability. Could he fool the eye with shades and tones that seemed believable?
Effectively, could he trick people into thinking everything was fine? But one day, when I rang to ask how the job was going, he had changed his tune and quit. Two things were getting him down. The first was that the whole scheme seemed increasingly dishonest. He literally was spent his days covering up the truth. If quakes had damaged a building, maybe people should just acknowledge and accept it. Or better still, put it right.
The second problem was that the job was never finished. The more he painted, the more there was to paint. He would spend a whole day covering up a crack, only to come back the next morning and find that it reappeared or lengthened overnight. Which meant climbing back and trying to re-patch the original, plus then covering the new ones that grew from it. The job had become energy-sapping and demoralising.
Why am I telling you all this? Because the same is true for any lies we tell about our lives. Those we try and sell to other people, but also the ones we tell ourselves. I am not suggesting you are all deeply dishonest, but we do live in an increasingly pressured and judgemental world. A world in which it can sometimes be hard to admit that we are not perfect. Especially online.
Anyone who manages a social media profile knows the pressure to present an image of living in perpetual bliss. To curate the impression that you are living your best life, all the time. Always happy, always, witty, always confident. Forever posting images or sending messages that give the appearance that nothing ever goes wrong in your world. That may not seem like lying, but actually, it is. And it is also exhausting and anxiety-inducing.
It is the reason I don’t like so-called social media “Influencers.” It seems to me that all they influence is the creation of dissatisfaction and a feeling of worthlessness amongst their followers. Yet you know in your heart that their lives simply can’t be that flawless. That they are also covering up the imperfections, pretending they are not there.
I would suggest to you that what was true for the cracks in those buildings is true for the cracks in our lives. When things don’t go the way we want. When we mess up, or fail, or do something dumb. Whilst it may seem like a good idea at the time, painting over the cracks is seldom a good solution. Hiding the truth is always demoralising and ultimately, a full time job.
A lie we tell one day, whether by omission or commission, always needs two more to keep it covered the next. And then more, and then more. Like cracks in a brick wall, they spread outward like a web, ever more complicated and harder to keep track of. Until the only way to keep up is to start believing the lie yourself.
We are teaching you to be honest here partly because that is what a moral society requires. But partly also because that is actually the easier way to live your life.
Without shame, or guilt, or the constant fear of being found out. Hiding the cracks in your life will always take more effort than simply admitting or fixing the problem.
My preference would be that you all spent less time curating your lives online and more time just getting out and living them (yes, I know I am old and boring – thank you).
But if you do have to paint a picture of yourself on social media, don’t be afraid to make it an honest one. Because I will tell you a lesson we learn way too late in life. A person with foibles and failings is far more attractive than one who pretends they have none.
Lower 4th Peer Mentors
In 2019 a programme was set up to allow peer mentors in the Lower 4th pupils to listen to problems and offer support to Year 8 pupils. I would like to congratulate that first group of mentors and invite them forward to receive certificates for their work. They were: Libby Rolph, Phoebe Hodgkisson, Emma Dunnaker and Katherine Sutherland. The peer mentor programme will continue and anyone interested should contact Mrs Langford. Applications are available from your tutor. Just one lunchtime a week could make a real difference to someone.
Last week our IB2 students presented their ToK exhibition, which is an assessed element of the Diploma core and an opportunity for candidates to showcase their academic work to the wider community.
The IB team would like to commend: Vasil Todorov, Zoe Law, Sophia Eaton, Esme Elwell-Thomas,
And for the best effort overall, Lara Sievert has been awarded a small prize that she can collect from the IB team. Well done to all.
Congratulations to all Houses for a wonderful revival of our traditional House Song Competition. As you heard, the adjudicator was very impressed by all involved, as were we all. Special congratulations again to the prize winners:
Angela Hong of Mary Windsor for Best Conductor
Elmshurst for Best Creative Performance
Wendron Gordon for Runner-Up, and
Housman Hall for their winning performance
I am certain that the standard was of the highest yet, and you all certainly showed ‘togetherness’. Well done.
Still on the subject of singing, thank you to all who participated in last Tuesday’s concert, which featured 17 items including solos, duets and a boys’ choir all of which showed professionalism and individual skill.
Last Tuesday also saw 110 members of the CCF journey to Peckwood Youth Activity Centre to participate in survival, leadership, and field craft events. Great to see so many Cadets on a Field Day outside of School again.
In mid-week Cup fixtures, good wins in Rugby for the U14 and U15 teams. The senior Netball team beat Cheadle Hume School, and the U14 and U16 teams have qualified for the West Midlands regional finals.
Our Golfers defeated Repton School 3-0 in the ISGA Midlands Semi-final, and well done to the U18 girls and U16 boys Hockey teams, who have qualified for the Midlands Indoor Finals. We also played two basketball games against Bristol Metropolitan Academy, with the U16s winning by 4 points. Pleasing also to see the U14s play their first game for the School.
A busy Saturday of sports fixtures, with the senior Football team losing a closely fought match against Brooke House College 5-3.
However, very pleasing results for the girls’ Hockey teams, with wins for the 1st XI, U15A, and the 2nd XI who claimed their first win of the season.
The senior Netball team had a very impressive win against an Oxford University side, and in rugby matches against RGS High Wycombe there were wins for the 2nd XV, U15A, U14A,B,&C teams.
Meanwhile our girls’ and boys’ Volleyball teams competed well at the Black Country Competition, and our Table Tennis players competed in the Lillington Tournament, with Howard Wong winning the junior competition, and Anna Rombach winning the girls final.
As to the week ahead, this coming Tuesday we look forward to a concert in Routh starting at 7pm and featuring our many performing groups - orchestra, strings, brass, concert band, big band, girls and boys choirs. The concert will last just an hour and you are warmly invited to attend to support.
Please now stand as we say the Grace together.