I read a book recently called The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath. They have attempted to analyse why it is that some moments in life make a profound impact on us. As with their other books, they use stories to illustrate and illumine their theses, and they also demonstrate the capacity to articulate their ideas into brief and compelling phrases. I won’t attempt to summarise their book, but I certainly recommend it as an enjoyable and thought-provoking read.
I have been thinking a lot about their work during these first couple of weeks of the School year. There have been a number of ‘moments’ that will, I suspect, live long in the memories of various members of the School community. In my own experience, the Commissioning service in the Chapel last Sunday was a tremendously significant moment. The gathering of members of the Trinity community, past and present, along with many of the significant people in my own life’s journey, was memorable in and of itself. A level of formality, not dissimilar to a wedding, presided over by the Archbishop, further elevated the occasion for me. The context, at the beginning of my Headship, further charged the occasion. It was a big moment for me, and I would like to thank all those who participated and who made it possible.
I witnessed another ‘moment’ on the first day of classes this year for our Junior School students. As the boys gathered for the start of the day on the playground and were addressed by Mr Dunn, there was a small crowd of parents in attendance. Many of them were there because this day was the first day for their boy at Trinity; some were there because this was their boy’s first day at school. The commencement of school, or the start at a new school, is another such highly-charged moment that is likely to live long in the memory.
The third ‘moment’ about which I have been thinking was the Archbishop’s annual Commissioning Service for the prefects and school leaders in Anglican Schools, which took place in St Andrew’s Cathedral yesterday. We sent a representative group of our School leaders along to gather with more than 600 other such students from around the Sydney Diocese; they participated in the service, enjoyed a highly social morning tea, and engaged in a question and answer session with the Archbishop. During the service the Archbishop told us that he had participated in the same service of Commissioning at the Cathedral in his final year of school exactly fifty years previously. The sense of continuity and history further amplified the ‘moment’.
Of course, our experience of ‘moments’ is highly subjective. Last Sunday was a very big deal for me, but it may have been nothing but a very irritating and boring experience for a young boy forced to wear school uniform and go to chapel on a non-school day. Likewise, some of our Prefects may have found the occasion yesterday very significant; others may have been more interested in looking at the other attendees! A ‘moment’ for someone may be entirely insignificant for someone else.
One line in the book, in particular, stuck with me: “We feel most comfortable when things are certain, but we feel most alive when they are not.” It was associated with the observation that the school experience seems often to have been designed to reduce the change of ‘moments’; so much of school is about the routine and the predictable and the certain. I was provoked by the observation and began to defensively catalogue all the ways that the school experience creates and conjures moments of great impact for students. I believe that there are many.
However, as I settled down I actually began to wonder about the ‘power of routine’. Without challenging in any way the significance or the reality of ‘moments’, the routine and the normal patterns of life are powerfully formative and not to be despised. There is nothing momentous about a boy packing his bag for the school day, but the self-regulation developed by doing so day after day will be a powerful dimension of his character in the years to come. There is nothing memorable about a student going to his books before his play in the afternoon, but the habit of stepping up to his responsibilities will enable him to make his way in life. There is nothing about participating in lunchtime clean-up that will make headlines in the life-story, but learning to serve reliably and unobstrusively will do our boys nothing but good.
I hope that the boys’ experience at Trinity includes both mountaintop moments of revelation and clarity and significance, and the ongoing daily cultivation of habits and character traits that will stand them in good stead in the years to come. Both are necessary for growth in wisdom and stature, and favour with God and men. Detur Gloria Soli Deo.
Commissioning Service | Sunday 4 February