I have found myself talking about values a lot lately – with our juniors as they research colleges, with our Board of Trustees as we lay the groundwork for strategic planning, at community meeting. And it should be a central topic: after all, developing and refining one’s own set of values is an essential part of the adolescent task of individuation.
But really, functionally, why does it matter that we know our values? The answer, I believe, is that our values allow us to navigate a sometimes perplexing contradiction: On the one hand, we believe in the importance of doing hard things, of pushing through discomfort and distress, to be able to live a rich, full life. On the other hand, we want students to trust themselves, listening to their inner voice and their body’s cues to keep themselves safe and healthy, physically and emotionally.
Confusingly, the emotions and sensations of distress and discomfort are often the same, whether we face a challenge worth tackling or a threat we should steer clear of. So how do we figure out when to listen to the cues from our bodies and minds, and when to push through them?
The answer is in our values. Who do we want to be in the world? How do we want to carry ourselves? What do we believe to be important? If we can answer these questions, then we can hold those values up against any given challenge. Those values tell us when it’s time to dig deep and suffer a little bit for what we believe in.
I thought about all of this during Senior Project Presentation day recently as our seniors paced the halls, or tucked themselves away in empty offices to practice their speeches. There was more than enough distress to go around. Fortunately, there was also plenty of grit. The enjoyment I get from watching our students suffer their way through challenges is not schadenfreude, it’s the knowledge that every time our students do something hard because it matters to them, they find another piece of themselves.
Head of School