Our Year 11 students recently participated in a one-day conference put together by our Deputy Head and our Heads of House called BODi Day. The title is an acronym for “By Our Deeds: Inquiry”. Like a true conference, the students were presented with keynote speeches and had the opportunity to participate in a number of workshop sessions over the course of the day. There were sessions on healthy eating and physical well-being, emotional self-control, mindfulness, yoga and meditation, social connectedness and integrity. In the evening, parents and students were invited back to the school to discuss the nature of ‘meaningful relationships’. The focus of this conference though, was on a couple of big questions: what does it mean to be a ‘good man’, and how can we find happiness and contentment in our lives? Such questions are central to all of us as we navigate through difficult times, and are surely as important in education as Mathematics or History.
Our students were presented with some pretty challenging material and ideas by our keynote speaker, Dr Justin Coulson. He spoke to them about the importance of respect in a digital world, when it is so easy to drag others down. He also confronted the elephant in the room of pornography, its ease of access and its long-term impacts on health and relationships. Our students were given the opportunity to discuss and ask questions about topics we generally find difficult to talk about, and were impressive in their thoughtfulness and maturity. I empathise with their struggles to work out what it means to be ‘male’ in a world in which some men treat women appallingly, when domestic violence is occurring at horrific rates, and when both men and women are too often objectified and portrayed publically in dehumanising ways. They cannot escape their masculinity; how are they to wear it with pride?
Three themes emerged strongly from the day and, although they seem simple, present the students with real challenges if they are to live up to them.
The first is to treat every person with respect. It is so easy for Australian males (especially) to fall into a pattern of interaction with each other based on ‘bagging’ or ‘banter’. While such exchanges are often intended in a good-natured way, too often they become exhausting and hurtful to the subject. On-line ‘chats’ similarly, can easily descend into vicious and nasty attacks, and people can say things they would never dream of saying to someone in person. In addition, it is all too easy to laugh at another’s misfortunes. Our students were challenged to choose to respect all others, and to call out disrespect whenever they saw it. It sounds easy, but takes great courage to do so.
Secondly, the students were encouraged to invest much time and effort in building great relationships with those around them – their parents, their friends and partners. Research has shown that the key to real happiness and contentment lies in the quality of the relationships in our lives, face-to-face relationships built on real respect, trust and love. Such relationships cannot be found on electronic devices, they have to be made and sustained and worked on in person. They require time, and empathy and presence.
Finally the boys were challenged to choose to act with kindness whenever they had a chance to do so. Small acts of kindness may cost us little, but change the lives of those who receive them.
Such lessons are valuable for all of us and we would all do well, students, teachers and parents, to try to live up to such values so that we can live again in a humane and civil world.