Human nature

My Lower Sixth Politics set has recently been considering different views on human nature. Socialists, for example, take a very positive view of our potential, but believe that we have been corrupted by capitalism and turned into greedy and selfish individuals.

Conservatives, on the other hand, heavily influenced by the Christian tradition of original sin, take a particularly gloomy view of mankind. They think we are fallen, incapable of making sound decisions and in need of a constant strong hand to keep us in check.

A review of the news over the weekend might lead you to a similarly negative stance.

A Prime Minister facing allegations of sleazy behaviour; politicians hurling abuse around the Mother of all Parliaments; homophobic targeting of British Bake Off contestants; and, chanting at a Women’s Super League match that allegedly mocked the 96 people who died in the Hillsborough tragedy.

Meanwhile, the BBC is embroiled in controversy after it upheld a complaint against news presenter Naga Munchetty. If you haven’t heard about the incident, Naga and co-presenter Dan Walker got into a conversation following an interview with a supporter of Donald Trump shortly after the US President had told four American politicians of colour to “go back” to where they came from.

Munchetty, herself a victim of that kind of clear racist language in the past, hit back at the language, opining that the President was legitimising racist language and obviating his responsibility for national cohesion.

Overnight, the BBC has reversed its original decision, in effect backing Naga. Message to all: when in a hole, stop digging!

Scientists have found evidence of human communication up to 70,000 years ago. There are two theories on how our language skills initially developed; one is that we needed to communicate to warn each other of imminent dangers, given that early humans were a much hunted species; the second is that language developed to allow us to gossip – we are, afterall, a sociable species

Language is incredibly powerful. We use it to motivate and to criticise; we use it to tell stories, fact and fiction; and we use it to debate and progress ideas. Oddly, given we’ve had 70,000 years of practice, sometimes we get our language badly wrong and later regret what we’ve said or typed.

By coincidence, Thursday is also National Poetry Day. I have asked one of our Sixth Form academic scholars to read my favourite.

If by Rudyard Kipling read by Georgia:

You can choose your favourite lines. For me, it’s
“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they have gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’”

Excuse the masculinity of the language; we can all relate its sentiments to our ethos of Work Hard, Be Kind.

Leaders are often powerful speakers, their words using rhetorical devices just like Kipling. They use language to explain, persuade and cajole. Modern communication is as likely to be via twitter as tv as mankind evolves in its means of listening.

Communication has also become a two-way process. No longer is it just about politicians giving speeches and interviews. Ordinary people like us can now communicate via social media and give our view straight back.

I mention all this in the context of the first meeting of the year of the School Council. This body should be run for you as pupils and run by you. It is an opportunity for you to voice your opinions, give your ideas and request answers from me or any other members of the Senior Management Team. Please do engage with your Council rep and make your voice heard.

In another coincidence, the BBC also announced last week the nation’s favourite hymn. Re-popularised, I suspect, following its adoption by the England cricket team, Jerusalem came top of the BBC poll. Perhaps as we sing it in a moment, some of the more critical minds might consider whether the patriotic words based on an 1803 poem by William Blake remain relevant in Britain today. Patriotism isn’t necessarily a negative emotion but can become one if we start to view our own culture as superior to others.

Thought for the day:
Even if we disagree about everything, we can still be kind to each other.

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