In Rousmaniere Hall on January 3, Headmaster Kerry Brennan welcomed students and faculty back from the winter break, launching the 2019 winter term and reminding all of the ripe opportunity for reflection the new year affords, as we practice “the flip of one calendar to another” and the associated, requisite personal accounting. The essential quality of humility was at the heart of Headmaster Brennan’s opening Hall talk, and he implored everyone in the audience to access and express that humility through four key phrases: I’m sorry. I was wrong. I need help. Thank you. “These are indeed fundamental assertions that resonate within faith traditions and in civic practice,” began Mr. Brennan, “ones that are evocative of what it means to be human, what it means to be in full community. They are obvious and they are essential. But they are also difficult and frequently sorely absent.”
Through his own personal stories—tales of youthful foolishness and folly, confessions of adult introspection—Mr. Brennan’s talk was not only an exhortation but was itself an example of these humble expressions in action. He recalled aloud times when he did utter—or should have—these phrases to people from his past as well as individuals in the very room.
“All of these desirable [phrases] emanate from a deep sense of humility,” Mr. Brennan said. “Sometimes we get a bit full of ourselves. We allow pride of accomplishment or association (like getting into a particular college, or winning an especially well-contested game against a rival, or earning the top grade on a test in a given class) to alter our sense of who we are. We are flawed, unfinished, aspiring human beings. Part of the joy of living is living until we get more and more right. But the reality of living, of trying new things, of befriending new people, of going new places, of challenging our faculties, is that our imperfections will continuously be made known to us. That we are imperfect is no revelation. We are. But we are also gifted, when we are fully thinking and fully feeling, with a profound sense of humility. Humility. This gives us cover when we are frustrated or disappointed in ourselves. We are human. We are not yet fully formed. And we will make mistakes.
“Today I leave you simply with the wish that all of us will more freely and authentically summon up the instincts to say I’m sorry, to say I was wrong, to say I made a mistake, to say I need help, to say Thank you. And increasingly that these habits of expression will reflect a deep wellspring of feeling, of self-knowledge, and of community. In this New Year may we all strive to be better in these ways.”