As we approach the Winter Break at the end of this tumultuous year, I wanted to share some thoughts and reflections with the Pearson College UWC community.
Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that despite the literal darkness of an encroaching Winter Solstice, and the shadows cast by the multiple challenges we have faced during 2020, there are moments of light and brightness to celebrate.
One highlight for my own family was the safe gathering we had to celebrate Diwali in November, the great festival of lights marked by lamps, candles (or in our case sparklers) to symbolise the defeat of forces of darkness and depression. Having the infectious laughter of students on our deck reminded me of the creeping cost of COVID’s impact on mental health, as these events are now few and far between. Many of us will be experiencing this reality this holiday as we follow the tight protocols of remaining isolated in our core bubbles. Hopefully we can deploy our newfound Zoom skills to create some uplifting virtual connections with our loved ones
The theme of light continues with Hanukkah this week as the lighting of the menorah symbolises triumph over adversity and the ninth candle represents how one spark can ignite many more, a reminder to us all to bring light to all interactions we have this break. The light will extend into the lunar New Year as lanterns and illuminations will mark the beginning of the year of the Ox which will hopefully signal broader and better horizons in the coming months. The primary characteristics of the Ox, who is hard working, reliable and honest, are excellent barometers for our own community values as we move into 2021. As we all navigate through the complexity of protocols, regulations, adapted community rules and the struggles of missing family and home this year I feel the call to always be honest and kind to one another is crucial.
In times of challenge honesty matters more than ever as it is the bedrock of trust and the foundation of an effective community.
I am also reminded that, at the beginning of our early winter season of holidays in November, the focus of love and giving started with the celebration of Mawlid el-Nabi, qualities which also characterize the celebration of Christmas next week. The overlapping values shared by many traditions that seek to enhance light in the midst of the greatest darkness, is striking. The fact that so many cultures focus on love and forgiveness at a time when a cold environment seems most threatening, reminds me of the argument made by some of my Theory of Knowledge students this year in their exam essays. Whether discussing religious rites, rituals and practices or the procedural knowledge of Indigenous cultures such as the Dene, students framed these ‘ways of knowing’ as actions and experiences rather than a following of a prescriptive doctrine. I was reminded of the famous scholar Karen Armstrong’s identification of the concept of faith as grounded in practices of compassion and actions of kindness rather than the way it is often caricatured as ‘knowledge without evidence.’ Armstrong reminds us that the intersection of many faiths and bodies of traditional knowledge is the often cited “golden rule” first articulated by Confucius in the 5th Century BC, “Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself.” This one principle is the foundational root of many major religions and secular value systems around the world.
Living the golden rule through actions of giving, offering and support cultivates wisdom, compassion and empathy, perhaps the greatest markers of knowledge, education and achievement. These are the elements of procedural knowledge that many Indigenous traditions have prioritised over thousands of years focused on similar foundational ethical principles. I was reminded of this recently when sharing Pearson’s Reconciliation Action Plan which references the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy: any decision made needs to sustainably benefit at least seven generations of a community. The impact of this profound distillation of thought, ethics and knowledge continues to challenge my own practices and life. This could become a transformational practical principle if applied to all areas of human endeavour.
Let’s make 2021 the year of the seventh-generation principle.
So, as we enter the Winter Break there is an opportunity to reflect and appreciate the insights and positive side effects 2020 has presented to us. For that reason, I remain optimistic that the Pearson community has strengthened its bonds and relationships through the many trials and tribulations we have faced this year. Whilst adversity can often accelerate conflict, if we remain open to reflection, learning and positive intent, the resulting resolutions can enhance deeper future connections. Pearson will undoubtedly be stronger in the coming years as a result of some of the adversities we have faced. This is because we have returned to reflecting on our values, our essential agreements and our purpose as a movement. This has been happening across the UWC network this year as we all refocus on priorities and community. My thoughts and prayers go out to our fellow UWC family members who have suffered far greater adversity than us in 2020 and during this time of Winter Break reflection it is always important to place our own worries and concerns within a broader global context.
On behalf of my own immediate family I want to extend my deep thanks for the incredible support and collegiality that we have experienced from the Pearson community. People have been incredibly patient, supportive and kind, qualities we all hope to pay forward to those around us. Equally I wish to thank all of the College’s supporters and friends who continue to give of their time, expertise, resources and participation. Pearson’s wider community is truly the most exceptionally engaged group I have ever worked with.
In particular I want to thank our staff and faculty who have worked through significant adversity, challenge and uncertainty. It truly has been the year that never ends and your patience, perspective and commitment to our young people and the UWC movement itself cannot be overstated. This is never clearer than the support we have received from both staff and volunteers in helping to support our students during the Winter Break.
Equally, our students are demonstrating great resilience in the face of a complex network of challenges that have been thrown at them from the moment in March when they learnt they all had to return home to the days when returning and new students arrived to start their mandatory 14-day “Quarientation.” I applaud their commitment to the UWC movement and the values of this community moving forwards.
My family and I wish you all a very safe, happy and healthy Winter Break and look forward to building on the strengths we have built together as a community this year. Here’s to a bright new year and the roll out of vaccines in the Spring.
Craig, Sarah, Isaac, Elizabeth and Ciaran