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From the Headmaster

As I left the first sitting of James Shone’s talk yesterday, a parent said: that talk will make writing your Pilgrims’ Way article easy.  Indeed!  James is a remarkable character: a highly respected teacher and leader, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour when he underwent a medical after being offered the role of Headmaster of Monkton Combe School in Bath – a position he was then unable to take.  Years of rehabilitation followed.  James quoted the great line that ‘in adversity we have a choice’.  One soon sees past his disabilities, such is his impressive personality; James is clever, witty, articulate, engaging – and a man with profound understanding of how human beings work.

James brought one prop: a balloon.  The balloon of self-belief.  Some, he said, have a flat ‘balloon’, and so rather like a car tyre with insufficient air, their journey through life is harsh, bumpy, and grim.  Others have the self-confidence represented by an inflated balloon: they bounce along, perhaps losing some ‘air’ through setbacks, but with reserves of confidence and, therefore, resilience. To quote James, these people have a UFO – the capacity to look Up, Forward, and Out.

The big question is how we inflate our ‘balloons’; that is, how do we increase our self-belief.  James told the story of one boy, a chap of modest talents but impressive personality, who drew on his ability to engage with others. The boy realized he was good at something – one of the four ways James suggested we inflate our ‘balloon’.  Two other methods are being valued and having hope in the future.  Belonging is also important: it is essential to have roots in family, friends, or elsewhere.  Boys need to know that when everything goes wrong, it is not the end: the people who really matter are there, just as before.

Boys today face extraordinary and new challenges, including the rise of social media.   They need full ‘balloons’ to move on quickly when things don’t really matter.  Keith Miller, the great Australian post-war cricketer said: There's no pressure in Test cricket. Real pressure is when you’re flying a Mosquito in wartime (these were not his exact words).  Though, characteristically, an overstatement (and with a first sentence which is manifestly untrue), Miller understood that life has gradations of peril and difficulty.  But he was a man with a balloon full of self-confidence.  To develop James Shone’s analogy, a few people may be able to inflate their own ‘balloon’, but it is absurd to think we can simply tell others to be more self-confident; we can, however, help through support and encouragement.  Self-confidence is, in this sense, a gift.  And what a gift it is!

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