Dangerous Advice?

Dangerous Advice?

 Whitstable Beach at Sunset
My old secondary school wrote to me the other day.  They don’t often get in touch, and it was nice to hear from them.  They were announcing a new headmaster, and this is how they described him;

“We were extremely impressed with his clarity of mind and considerable energy as well as his passionate commitment to education and young people.” 

The description stuck in my mind.  It made me want to meet him.

I’m interested in the way people describe each other.  A colleague emailed me recently, and in his note he described the former Chief  Inspector of prisons, Lord Ramsbotham;

“He is a wonderful man – driven, dynamic and decent. Great combination”

A few weeks ago, I picked up Conn and Hal Iggulden’s Dangerous Book For Boys.  Although it had been on my bookshelf for years, I hadn’t really read it before.  The words on the first page are by Sir Frederick Treves, Sergeant in Ordinary to HM the King, Surgeon in Ordinary to HRH Prince of Wales.  He wrote them in 1903, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Boy’s Own Paper.

‘Don’t worry about genius and don’t worry about not being clever. Trust rather to hard work, perseverance, and determination. The best motto for a long march is “Don’t grumble. Plug on.”

“You hold your future in your own hands. Never waver in this belief. Don’t swagger. The boy who swaggers – like the man who swaggers – has little else that he can do. He is a cheap-Jack crying his own paltry wares. It is the empty tin that rattles most. Be honest. Be loyal. Be kind. Remember that the hardest thing to acquire is the faculty of being unselfish. As a quality it is one of the finest attributes of manliness.”

“Love the sea, the ringing beach and the open downs. Keep clean, body and mind.”

As Richard Reeves  reminded me in this article about ‘character’, the first headmaster of Buckinghamshire’s Stowe school, JF Roxburgh , once described his aim as producing men who would be “useful at a dance and invaluable in a ship wreck”.

From the same piece, Richard remembers;

” Lord Baden-Powell described the Scout Movement he founded as “character factory”, with the explicit aim of turning out young men of the right sort. The goal, in his words, was to instil “some of the spirit of self-negation, self-discipline, sense of humour, responsibility, helpfulness to others, loyalty and patriotism which go to make ‘character’.”

Perhaps all of this seems terribly old-fashioned – a bit serious or worthy.  I certainly get the rather depressing impression that you aren’t supposed to talk about these things anymore. 

It is twenty years since I started at secondary school.  As a new headmaster begins his work, he will pass on various pearls of wisdom to the pupils.  GCSEs and A-Levels must be studied for. University and careers must be considered. 

Amongst all of the everyday priorities, I hope that he will also share Mark Twain’s advice;

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

5 Replies to “Dangerous Advice?”

  1. Good stuff, thanks Oli. Love the Mark Twain quote. Had heard it before, but it had been forgotten. I need to have about 20 quotes that have inspired me, but soon after lost to the inadequacies of my memory, read out to me every morning before I leave the house….

  2. Can’t agree more Oli. Character has got to be the key goal we want for ourselves, let alone our young people. We need to find a way to make this exciting and modern again. Who are the modern role-models and heroes who bring this to life?

  3. Thank you Oli and JF Roxburg. I would love for my own son (and daughter) to become “useful at a dance and invaluable in a shipwreck.”
    Character goes hand in hand with being a good sport, in being a Gentleman, and so many other “antiquated” lessons from “the age of reason”.
    Setting the bar of simple values high in our souls – is an investment into ALL of our futures.

  4. I just came across a copy of the Dangerous Book for Boys.

    ‘You hold your future in your own hands. Never waver in this belief. Don’t swagger. The boy who swaggers – like the man who swaggers – has little else that he can do. He is a cheap-Jack crying his own paltry wares. It is the empty tin that rattles most.’

    I found that incredibly simplistic – a product of the thinking of the time maybe, when notions of psychological distress for example (PTSD, shell shock, anyone suffering with mental health issues) were not noted or considered.

    I’m not certain of the context in which you are offering this article, but I actually think that quote is dangerous advice – to anyone who is feeling vulnerable and perhaps doing some real soul-searching. It smacks too much of the stiff British upper lip, carry on regardless – anything else is weakness and failure.

    The Mark Twain quote is excellent – if only because it seems more realistic and doesn’t attempt to reduce human struggles to simplistic notions. We learn from our stuggles, and shouldn’t punish ourselves or others when we perceive that we fail. And maybe, we didn’t fail?

    The rest of the book seems great, everything I used to love in such books in the past. They would do better to lose that quote, the Mark Twain quote would resonate more with men, in my humble opinion. The modern man needs character, but shouldn’t view vulnerability as weakness – and an empty tin can be refilled.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *