During the last century, when I moved up to ‘big school’ (as it was termed) we had a headmaster who spoke a great deal of setting a personal, good example to others.
He had been orphaned when quite young and, indeed, had done well to reach an esteemed position of trust and influence. The school grew and, accordingly, so did his remuneration. He told us about his big house, lay preaching and general superiority in face of adversity. A very proud man. We didn’t like him but that didn’t matter, he liked himself enough for all of us.
He disliked the way we would sit down, so he made us repeat the process until it met his satisfaction, which, obviously, swelled the esteem in which he was held (by himself) greatly:
‘Sit down, stand up, sit down, stand up and you’ll keep doing it until you do it properly’ he would say, without giving any clue as to what constituted sitting down ‘properly’.
It always irked me that he made us do this but the fact that he stood over the edge of the stage looking down on us – picking his nose with his thumb – determined that this was the last of my ever being bullied into ‘respecting’ someone.
When some miscreant burned down the school he faced this adversity through the bottom of a whisky glass, didn’t shave or have a stage from which to despair of us all. A good personal example indeed. One to preach about? I doubt he ever did. The arsonist turned out to be some former pupil who hated him for being a hypocritical watt (anag.).
There are better ways to stand against injustice and I spent time, last weekend, at Conway Hall, home to the Conway Hall Ethical Society, which is, tellingly, the only remaining ethical society in the UK and whose object is:
‘the advancement of study, research and education in humanist ethical principles.’ (Conway Hall)
I was there for an event organised by and for people with an autistic spectrum condition and felt humbled and impressed by the expressions and demonstrations of worthy skills and honest effort that took us through a very enjoyable day culminating in performances of poetry by Katie Walters and Janine Booth and impromptu music from Robyn Steward each of whom has a new fan now.
Before all that, though, I had arrived a little early and decided to take a seat in Red Lion Square to enjoy the crisp sunshine of a January day in London. I was drawn to a seat that bore the inscription:
‘Claudia Jones 1915-1964 A great fighter for liberation of humanity’
How appropriately placed, given my destination, I thought and tapped into my mobile that can sometimes be too smart for its, or my, own good. Now though, it worked, taking me to Wikipedia to learn about this lady who died when just a year older than I am now, and who made more selfless effort, with greater results than you see on an average day. I was impressed and moved.
Sitting down and contemplating the price she and others throughout history had paid for standing up, seemed special and fitting. The price for standing up can be a heavy one but there are people in the least likely of places doing that right now.
I felt renewed after sitting down and I felt renewed in my desire to find the strength to stand up. It seems to be a thing I need to feel. So, maybe the old saying is right in that it’s the thing you must do to ever count for anything. It’s worth taking that moment to sit down and consider what it would take to make you stand up? What would need to happen? Humility is a great starting point.