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Small things matter

A recent assembly began with this conundrum: which are the most dangerous animals on earth?  The answers, though debatable, are not always what you would expect.

Big animals like lions are pretty low down the list (estimated 200 humans killed per year), but scorpions (at 3,000) are much higher.  The boys were not happy when I mentioned that dogs kill a very significant number of people (through rabies) and are number 4 on the list I was working from.  Of course, most chilling is that humans appear second (with 400,000 homicides a year).  But it is perhaps surprising that the humble mosquito tops the list of most dangerous animals on earth (though does passing on a disease count?).

The point was to get the boys to realise that when we think about what might have the most effect, we are often drawn to the big and exciting things (the lions) and forget the power of the small things (mosquitos).

This led on to suggestions from the boys of small things that they can do to make the school, and indeed the world, a better place.  Holding doors, offering help, picking up litter; all small things that make a difference.  Some self-sacrificial suggestions were offered too, like being prepared to give up a turn in a game to make someone happy, or including someone if they are feeling left out.  Probably the biggest little thing we can do is just to remember to smile and greet others; it is interactions with people that cheer me up when I’m feeling a little down, and it can really turn around my day.

This reminded me of a story I heard years ago on a cricket training course (delivered by Terry Jenner believe it or not, the mentor of Shane Warne), which I told the boys, and repeat here.

A family arrive for a holiday on a remote tropical island.  They have a wonderful waterfront apartment with a veranda overlooking the beach.  During their first night there is a tremendous storm, and they awake to observe the effect of the high winds.  As they eat their breakfast on the veranda, they notice that hundreds of starfish have been washed on to the beach, stranded.  They see an old woman laboriously bending down, picking up starfish one by one, and returning them to the sea.  They watch this scene for some time, noticing that she is hardly making a dent in the problem, before going to talk to her.  

One of the family says: “What are you doing?  You can’t possibly hope to make a difference?”

The lady says nothing, but simply bends down, picks up another starfish and tosses it back into the sea, “Well, I made a difference to that one”.

This is a powerful message, I think; doing small things (which often cost us little), can have huge value to someone else.  Proving that there is good in social media (!), there was a wonderful trend for promoting ‘random acts of kindness’ a few years back, and it was inspiring to see the small things people were doing just to try to make a difference for others. 

I ended the assembly with the following quote, which has been attributed to various people: “As one person, I cannot change the world, but I can change the world for one person”.

Alistair Duncan
Interim Head

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