1 November 2015

This article was first published in the School Newsletter on 1 November 2015 

A wise friend of mine remarked recently that he thought the purpose of education was to prepare us for friendship. I’ve been mulling over this and, as I explained to the Senior girls in Assembly today, I think it’s a pretty good way to describe our purpose.

Friendship, in the broadest sense, encompasses our aspirations for our girls throughout their lives. An attitude of friendship will spur them to understand other people: their lives, their cultures, their experiences and their worldview. It will motivate them to apply their gifts, personal and material, in service of others. It will dispose them to make respectful and meaningful connections with people in their own circles and from different places and backgrounds. And friendship in the more personal sense brings us great, lasting joy and is at the heart of our most intimate relationships.

How, then, does a school prepare its students for friendship? It starts with creating an environment conducive to friendship. I talked to the girls about the role of manners and customs in our daily lives. At bottom, the things we categorise as ‘manners’ or ‘etiquette’ are about caring for others, and high standards of courtesy – however superficial the gestures may seem at times – help to ingrain an attitude of consideration for others. So a school which prizes and insists upon courtesy and respect creates the setting for true friendships to form.

Dr Seele emphasised in assembly the importance of kindness, of being inclusive and reaching out to others. The girls know this, of course, although each of us needs encouragement to sustain this when it involves people that we don’t know or don’t warm to or who haven’t always been kind to us in the past. But in addition to making outward gestures, there is another aspect of kindness that doesn’t often get a mention: self-restraint. There are so many temptations to push back or lash out, and excuses – stress, anger, frustration, tiredness – are easy to find. Nevertheless, there is no way around it: healthy friendships require a level of self-restraint that can be taxing, and the only way to build the self-discipline required is to keep working at it.

Cultural influences can be very powerful, so it is important that we build a culture of kindness at Queenwood. By being consistent in the manners, habits and standards that we expect from each other, we create a culture which strengthens each individual to be the person that they know they want to be. We hope that a culture of respect and kindness will thus seep into each girl’s DNA and equip her to build strong and meaningful friendships for life.

Ms Elizabeth Stone