Yet, there is something about this time of year, with the sometimes onerous expectations of Christmas gift buying, family entertaining, lavish meal and festive preparations, coupled with the impending new year and all its incumbent annual commitments to a more worthy, slimmer or healthier lifestyle, that always makes me feel quite thoughtful and reflective. I guess that I am not alone in that, as Christmas time is littered with references to the transformative power of reflection at the end of the year, not least through A Christmas Carol’s Ebenezer Scrooge, so wonderfully portrayed by our KS3 students’ production this year.
But perhaps my favourite seasonal story comes from the pen of Dr Seuss, in his wonderful tale of The Grinch, who stole Christmas. The poignancy of the story for me is not just that The Grinch is so irritated by the happiness of the others living in Whoville that he determines to steal their presents. It is that he disguises himself as Santa Claus to steal them and derives pleasure from spoiling their merriment. This to me sums up the modern malaise that has so shaken the world this year: lies and deception, pleasure in others’ misfortune, and a mean spirit of negativity towards our neighbours. You may be the unfortunate recipient of this sort of Grinch-like behaviour in your company or community, you may witness it in your friends, or you may even find that when you look long and hard in the mirror you can see a creeping Grinchiness about yourself!
Of course, we know how the Grinch story ends. The Whos sing on, cheerfully undaunted by the Grinch’s Machiavellian plans, leading the Grinch to reflect on the spirit of Christmas and, in Scrooge like fashion, to return the gifts and join in the celebrations. But one lesson that is often overlooked in this story is the fact that the Grinch changes very little, yet the changes he makes change everything. Prior to his epiphany, the Grinch is focused on deriving his happiness from others’ misery; he is a true modern relativist: making the Whos less happy makes his circumstances feel happier by comparison. How true is this envy-driven personality trait of so many in life that we encounter. Maybe if we dare to be honest with ourselves, it might even be said to be true of us, at least from time to time. And yet, by shifting his focus on to acts that make others happy, the Grinch finds happiness himself. He is still the same focused personality, but is now focused on making others happy in order to find happiness himself.
A simple, but powerful act at one of our concerts illustrated this perfectly for me. During our KS3 production, the actors distributed small toys amongst the children in the audience. It was part of the production and so time constraints meant that not every child received one of these small presents. Close to where I was sitting I saw the sadness and disappointment of a primary aged child who did not receive a gift, and her longing look at another child nearby who had received one. Imagine my delight as I watched the unfolding of the spirit of Christmas in what happened next. The second child looked happily at his toy, then, raising his eyes noticed the first child’s longing looks. With a moment’s hesitation of honest dilemma, and a brief last look at the toy, he then handed it over to his fellow student, who received it with total delight. As my eyes scanned back to the giver of the gift, I saw the most moving expression: pleasure. He was happy to have made someone else happy, through his self-sacrifice.
Watching this embodiment of the whole point of Scrooge’s tale of transformation, seeing this young student understand the most profound spirit of the season (and the KS3 play), was a humbling and heart-warming moment. How lucky we are to have role models such as this within our school community that we can all be inspired by, so that we adults can look deeply at ourselves through the clearer eyes of our young students, to inspire the next year of change and renewal such as the Grinch so richly enjoyed. No more self-deception, just an honest shift in focus to generous giving and altruistic pleasure. It is both simple and profound, so much so that perhaps the older and more entrenched we become, the more we have to learn it from the youngest members of our community. It is a small change, but it would change everything in our lives.
I wish you all, young and old, a happy Christmas and a Wonderful New Year and look forward to welcoming you back to our school, refreshed and renewed in 2017.
By Dr Neil Hopkin, Principal