Welcome to the Headmaster's Blog where you'll find updates, thoughts, and events regarding Saint David's School, the education of boys, and other items of interest. This is by no means meant to be a complete account of all that happens at Saint David's. Please refer to the school's website for more complete details -- it's more a Headmaster's musings.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Practice of Deliberate Moral Introspection

The following reflections on this year's school-wide theme, by three alumni from the Class of 2007, appeared in the winter 2016 issue of Saint David's Magazine.

Bobby Hausen '07
Bobby Hausen ’07:
The practice of deliberate moral introspection began for me within my first years at 12 East 89th Street, most clearly through the daily Chapel talks. By watching our teachers engage in a process of self-examination and detailed reflection, we were encouraged to do the same. From these rituals, certain anecdotes are burned into the minds of all Saint David’s graduates. I can still hear the sound of Ms. Warwick tearing a sheet of paper in two before mending it together to demonstrate the irreparable scar caused by a breach of trust in a friendship. I can see the troubled look on Mr. Hughes’s face as he discussed the ethical dilemma he once faced when he considered taking a small keychain from a supermarket without paying to avoid waiting in a long line (for the record, Mr. Hughes did make the moral choice). Nearly a decade later, my classmates and I can still vividly recall certain indelible Chapel talks, and different ones stand out for each of us. We carry these lessons with us, and they inform how we act.

The lessons we learned, however, were not merely those of others. Though moral introspection begins with the mind, like all noble pursuits, it requires repeated practice. The school encouraged careful personal self-reflection in all realms — our conversations, in our writing, and in our minds (when sent to Ms. Peavy’s bench, thoughtful self reflection was a requirement, as we were left alone with our thoughts for a period of time proportional to the severity of our transgressions). We not only learned to reflect upon our behavior and character but also to put those thoughts into action. The practice was deliberate in that it aimed at some goal. That goal does not involve mastery of academic material, achievement in athletics, or development of great artistic skill. Rather, it is directed at developing one’s character.

Perhaps most importantly, Saint David’s instilled a sense that the process of critical self-reflection is never complete. As we watched our teachers continue to improve themselves and saw the school itself undergo constant self-examinations, we understood that moral introspection would be a lifelong challenge. In fact, the first line of the Alma Mater directs us to never be content with our current character but rather constantly strive to be “all that we can be.” At Saint David’s, we grew to understand that deliberate moral introspection was essential to becoming good men.  

Andrew Demas '07 and Nicholas Demas '07
Andrew Demas ’07:
At Saint David’s I recognized that if you shift your paradigm toward what you can do for others, you garner a stronger understanding of yourself and are empowered to make a difference as an active citizen of the world. Morality lies at the heart of this learning: in the classroom, we are educated to critically analyze ideas; in Chapel, we are taught to reflect on our character; on the sports fields, we are encouraged to have humility; and in our interactions with friends and teachers, we are instructed to practice respect. Ultimately, these habits of moral introspection promote moral action.

I believe that moral action is best exhibited by service. Each November, I reminisce about the days I spent collecting cans of food for the Thanksgiving Turkey Drive. This tradition epitomizes the fruits of moral introspection and action, as it forces us to be conscious of our larger community and inspires us to act with compassion and empathy for others. Projects such as collaborations with Heifer International, City Harvest, and local nursing homes further promoted this ethos of introspection and action. Through these experiences, Saint David’s equipped me with a moral vocabulary to decipher how to best help others and be good to those around me.

I believe that there is a catalytic process between moral introspection and action that ultimately fosters the growth of good men: men that have a generosity of spirit, depth of character, and a certain selflessness that is rarely found in a world fueled by success and self-aggrandizement. Through giving to others, I understood the potential of my actions to affect communities, and I learned to be good, by doing good. We all have the power to shape those around us, and each of us has the responsibility to challenge ourselves to be better; to contribute and not just take; and to act with kindness.  

Nicholas Demas ’07:
There is a frame that hangs above my desk. The embossed red letters of Saint David’s School rest above the phrase “that they be good men.” In these words, heralded by decades of Saint David’s teachers and embodied by the men they guide, lies the essence of how our school challenges us to be morally introspective. Becoming a “good” man is a daunting task. Where do you start? In fact, what does it actually mean to be a “good” man? The path to understanding this is self-defined, but our experiences and the people we encounter mold our perspective. For me, Saint David’s undoubtedly shaped the values I cling to through the cultivation of a character-centric education.

A Saint David’s education is as much about building character as it is about academia. Dr. O’Halloran’s September letter to the Saint David’s community stressed the importance of introspection in a world of immediacy. He accentuated the vitality of classical philosophies of morality, and discussed his eagerness to shape “good” men from the cloth of virtues. Perhaps this is why the Saint David’s man is unique — he is taught through the lens of morals to treat others as equals, to thoughtfully challenge consensus, and to engage with both classical and modern topics. He is exposed to hearty competition through athletics, but is cautioned when respect and humility falter during the strife of a match. Lessons such as these were always present during my time at Saint David’s. Our teachers urged us to, above all, act with integrity, express gratitude, and develop an ethos for hard work.

I often speak about the Saint David’s Thanksgiving Turkey Drive as an example of what Saint David’s represents. I recall the genuine excitement and fulfillment my classmates felt for contributing to the happiness of others. The scale didn’t matter. Our community continuously fostered this sentiment, and it is why Saint David’s is distinguished among its peers.

By challenging me to act with value, Saint David’s instilled a dutiful sense of self-reflection that helped me develop my character. Robert Kennedy once said, when speaking to the youth of South Africa, “Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence, yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.” His words are equally true today. If we are to be the “good” men we hope to become, not only must we build our morality, we must have the courage to maintain it and the courage to look within ourselves.  

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