From the Deputy Head Master – Summer Hill

From the Deputy Head Master – Summer Hill

Do not think more highly of yourself than you ought …

Romans 12

This week we were delighted to be able to hold an Assembly to induct the 2022 School Officers. In his Occasional Remarks, the Head Master spoke about the quality of servant leadership we expect from our student leaders (and indeed our School leaders), but he also spoke with your sons about the virtue of humility, arguably the most countercultural and counterintuitive masculine quality we value at Trinity Grammar School, a quality that is both misunderstood and out of favour in a 21st century world that encourages and expects young adults to lead very public lives and whose value is measured by ‘likes’, and status, and their ‘brand’.

To understand why we value humility so highly, it is necessary to go back to first principles, to understand the etymology of humilitas, and how it was understood in the classical world. For the Greeks and Romans, humility was not a virtue, it was a sign of weakness, but it was the birth and teaching of Jesus who, in the Gospel of St Matthew says “… learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart…”and about whom Paul writes in the Epistle to the Philippians when he exhorts us to be “like-minded” with Christ, “…to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility … look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others”, that turned our understanding of humilitas on its head. It was, in the true sense, a social revolution, one that has echoed around the world in the two thousand years since. For the 1st Century Romans, this would have been even more counterintuitive than it is for us in 2022. But it is this example, the example of Jesus, that is the foundation stone of the School’s belief that humility is something that is a marker of a good man and a quality we strive to develop in our young leaders.

But before I try to unpack what humility is, it may be helpful to make it clear what humility is not. Humility is not weakness. It is not having low self-esteem. It is not being a doormat and allowing people to walk all over you. And it is not hiding or curbing your strength, because it is possible to be both humble and iron-willed (and successful). It does not mean an inability to hold strong convictions. Humility is the opposite of hubris, that excessive pride that in Greek tragedy was a defiance of the gods and led to an inevitable downfall.

“Humility, rightly understood, is the antidote to the hateful political and religious rhetoric”[1] that is so prevalent in our public discourse. It is the ability to hold onto our individual convictions while still acknowledging the humanity of those with whom we may disagree. Humility rests on the assumption of the fundamental dignity of being human, the ability to acknowledge that the person with whom you are disagreeing is created in the image of God and, what logically follows, a willingness to use our gifts and resources in the service of others.

Each of the 2022 School Officers was presented with a copy of John Dickson’s Humilitas as part of his induction. It is an excellent treatise, a short, easy read, and teases out the idea of humility much more eloquently than I have here. The presentation of this text is both symbolic, inasmuch as we want them to have a token to remind them of the occasion and the words that were shared with them and prayed over them, and also aspirational.

I suspect that wishing to live in a world full of humble men (and women), men of conviction who are secure in their manhood but willing and able to work in the service of others might be slightly naïve, but if every young man who graduates from Trinity takes a little humility with him when he leaves, I can’t help but think that would be a good thing.

[1] John Dickson, Humilitas

Bradley Barr | Deputy Head Master – Summer Hill

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