In this blog series, I am reflecting upon Cranleigh’s values, Service, Relationships, Leadership and Excellence.
Service: All in the community are encouraged to adopt an attitude of service to each other and the wider community.
I was once chairing a marketing committee, brainstorming our messaging for a new website and local communications. One of the members spoke up: ‘I am not sure we should use the words ‘servant’ or ‘service’ in any of our materials. Parents have different ambitions for their children. They want them to be leaders. I don’t expect any of them want their children to be servants.’
When we chose the wording to be engraved on the new Chapel doors at Cranleigh, we chose the following shortened quotation from Mark 10 45, ‘Not to be served, but to serve.’ Words intended to provoke the congregation to think through their purpose for living outside the walls of the Chapel. The doors lead out to the war memorial and the words inscribed on the sculpture ‘Leaving’ are ‘Love one another or die.’
Both quotations encourage us to resist that instinct we all share to put ourselves first. So much of our education and our later employment is self-serving. We want to get ahead, get the best results, get the best job, make the most money, be a house captain or a lead in a play or get the into the first team, be known in our work, be a Headmaster! Even our acts of service can be self-serving – they look good on our CV after all and we know that emotional intelligence and empathy are marketable qualities.
On a school level, I love it when I see pupils achieve, win games and championships, get into a great uni or apprenticeship or at a later date do something extraordinary. Moreover, I think perhaps it would be self-delusional to deny that as parents we harbour that same instinct for our children. We all say we want them to be happy and kind, but we would all prefer it if they were happy, kind and near the top of a tree!
An attitude of service to others does not mean that we cannot be ambitious for ourselves and for our children. What it means is that we use our skills and our privileges, our prominent positions if we have them, for the benefit of others – to make a difference, if you like. We think about putting others first.
So many of the great advancements in civilization have come from co-operation and collaboration; as of course have many of the great evils man has done to man and continues to, usually when someone has wanted to assert some idea of their superiority over another. A servant attitude turns the latter on its head and gives a sense of purpose beyond ourselves, particularly vital when you live in a community.
We have deliberately used the word ‘attitude’ rather than focusing on actions or examples which will inevitably be so varied: it can be tempting to think of service only in terms of actions such as a community service or Duke of Edinburgh activity or charity fundraising. These of course are valuable in and of themselves but the action should deepen our understanding and our attitude which in turn will determine our future actions and thinking- education, I suppose.
Consider the following scenario, which is deliberately not what we would typically think of as a service activity and is all about attitude.
A student is one of the top sports players in the school. He or she has an ambition to be an international sports player and the club and the school has given amazing opportunities, including playing in national competitions. There is club training on a Tuesday night but on that night there is a national qualifier for a sport other than the player’s chosen sport. Her or his presence in the sports team would make a massive difference to the chances of that team’s progression into the later rounds and therefore give the same opportunities the player is enjoying to others. To do so would mean missing club training and perhaps a place in a team.
What would a servant attitude suggest for the player, and of course the members of the team and the school who would also want the best for the player and be wanting to serve their needs?There is no easy answer – living rarely provides them but there will be a marked difference in a community if the first instinct is to think how another’s needs could be served rather than oneself. Sometimes we will serve and sometimes we will be served.
As I was reflecting again on the ambitions we have for the next generation and ourselves, I came across the ‘Drum Major Instinct’, a sermon delivered by Martin Luther King Jr on 4th February 1968, that speaks directly to the instinct to put our own name to the fore:
Not everyone can be famous. But everyone can be great, because greatness is determined by service. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Aristotle and Plato to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.
I would hope that after their education, most Cranleighans would leave with some knowledge of physics, philosophy and grammar and that many of them will choose to get a degree. Some of them will be famous. But, If Martin Luther King is correct, it would be a shame if our children’s ambition, and ours for them were confined to these things and they left school without a heart to love and serve their fellow men and women and to change the world for the better. I think that would be failure on our part.