Principal's Blog - 13 February 2020

12 Feb 2020

Discerning how we Care in our Marcellin community

Since my arrival at Marcellin I have stated in a number of forums to staff, students and parents that a fundamental goal of mine is to build strong relationships. The key to building strong and respectful relationships is being prepared to engage with people. To engage, even when the situation might be challenging, is to demonstrate that we care. I think it speaks volumes for this community that one of the components of our current Strategic Improvement Plan (SIP) has the title ‘Care’. The overall goal in this area is stated clearly in the documentation:

To commit to a safe and supportive environment which fosters growth, self-awareness, identity and positive relationships, ensuring that all individuals are valued and have a sense of belonging.

I was recently re-reading a book entitled God’s Voice Within by an American Jesuit, Fr Mark Thibodeaux. I had read it a couple of years ago but was drawn to it again in the recent holidays. Essentially it is a book about discernment. As outlined on the back cover, “By learning to discern what is at the root of our actions and emotions, we are well prepared to respond to God’s promptings inside us rather than unconsciously reacting to life around us.”

This idea of being more attuned to what is happening inside us and, as a result, being more able to interpret such things, is something that needs to be constantly worked at. For most of us it doesn’t come easily but when we attend to this aspect of our lives it can often lead to much greater clarity of decision making - and as a consequence, much better decisions.

The author explains in some detail those things that can hinder good discernment and those that can enhance it, both of which can impact on our lives and our decision making. For a moment I would like to focus on one of the things raised by Fr Thibodeaux that hinders good discernment because I found the explanation so insightful.

Anything that hinders me draws me away from God - feelings of emptiness of the sense of God’s closeness, disquiet and agitation, confusion, being fearful and secretive etc. All of these characteristics would (for me anyway) be easily identifiable as things that distract us from our relationship with God.  However, the characteristic that provoked the most thought and reflection for me was boredom and apathy.

To quote from the author:
Contrary to popular belief, hate is not the opposite of love. When I hate someone, at least I am engaged in that person’s life. I am in relationship with him. I have allowed that person to move me, to change me. The opposite of love is apathy, whereby I don’t care about the person enough to hate him. I am most unloving when you mean so little to me that I feel nothing for you at all.

What a challenging idea. How often are we tempted to be so dismissive of someone that we don’t even engage with them? How often have you heard someone say (or perhaps said yourself), I wouldn’t give her the time of day or I wouldn’t waste my time talking to him? Apathy can spread too. We can not only become apathetic in our own attitude to individuals and groups, as a whole society we can ‘tune out’ to the needs and concerns of others – refugees, the mentally ill, the homeless and others. Apathy is the absence of feeling and without feelings we lose a part of our humanity. The metaphor that Thibodeaux uses sums up the apathetic person so eloquently …. ‘(that) person is a sailboat lost on a windless sea.’

Reflecting on this is a reminder to me as a teacher of the need to care for, listen to, and engage with every student. St Marcellin reminded the Brothers in the early years of Marist education of the imperative to not only love the children they were teaching but to ‘love them all equally’.

For all of us in a Marist school we have a clear mandate to engage with ALL in our community. Hopefully that will be mostly positive but occasionally, our human condition being what it is, we may need to be challenged. As per our ‘Care’ goal quoted above, where 'we ensure that all individuals are valued', one thing is certain – at Marcellin College, apathy should not be an option!

John Hickey