I am, by nature, an optimist. Most people who teach are optimists. It is hard for me to understand how you could teach and not be. It is a calling focused on the future and without optimism, focusing on the future can be a little dismaying.
Recent events have made it difficult for optimists. The pandemic of the last two years has shaken our world and made us question verities we thought unshakeable. To give but one example, I never thought it would be impossible to travel across the country unhindered, but that is a right I will never take for granted again. The natural disasters of the past three summers indicate the very real impact of climate change on lives and livelihoods. The extraordinary bushfires of 2019 and 2020 have now given way to floods of biblical proportions. Finally, in recent weeks as this is written, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has seen the spectre of war once again on the continent that bore the brunt of World War 2. I have taught 20th Century History for most of my career as a teacher; the images emerging from this conflict are eerily and depressingly familiar. The war in Ukraine is, of course, on top of the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Afghanistan, the conflict that continues in Syria and the suffering in other parts of the globe for different reasons.
The war in Ukraine does feel different, however, not least because it involves a nuclear power. I grew up in the shadow of a nuclear conflagration that could destroy the world. At the time, it was simply a reality that I didn’t consider in any profound way. I was, to be fair, quite young. I am, needless to say, not young anymore and the prospect of nuclear weapons once again being used is chilling.
It is hard to be optimistic under such circumstances.
And yet, spending time with young people, as is my privilege, I still have hope. I still have optimism. The courage of the Ukrainian people in the face of naked aggression is a source of optimism. The dedication of those agitating for real action on climate change is a source of optimism. The genius involved in the creation of COVID vaccines that have enabled our world to return to something approaching normal is a source of optimism. But speaking to young people is what really gives me hope for the future. Most remain idealistic. Most are determined to shape their world. Most will not accept with blind supplication the direction our world is going. They are not cynical but do have a worldliness informed by the fact that the world is increasingly theirs. The way the world interacts and communicates is driven by the young.
I am thankful for it.
At a recent leadership assembly at one of the Junior Schools of the College, a video was presented entitled Take us to Your Leaders. The concept, in essence, was that young alien leaders arrived at the Junior School in the Leader Ship and were ushered into the presence of the Year 4 leaders of the Junior School. After 1000 questions, the young alien leaders (who bore a remarkable resemblance to the Year 4 leaders, it has to be said) were asked what they had learned about leadership. The list was remarkable. It included but was not limited to: having courage, being kind, not leading just because of a title, being respectful, being able to make mistakes, having a sense of humour, being patient, being helpful, setting an example, working hard, being persistent, showing people the right thing to do, taking risks.
It is the most wonderful and inspiring list. Our future is in good hands, and I remain optimistic.
Nick Evans (OW1985)