Head’s Blog: In Defence of Truth

Do you always tell the truth? Probably not. In fact, I’m sure you don’t because none of us does. Honestly, people stretch, cover-up or mangle the truth for a host of reasons all the time, many of which are justifiable and humane.

For reasons of tact, compassion or diplomacy, we are all usually quite prepared to lie. Just to be nice, we tell a friend recovering from a serious illness that he/she looks okay, when in our heart of hearts we don’t believe it. You may not like your close friend’s outrageous new outfit, but as a true friend you will most often be inclined to offer a compliment to avoid hurting them for no good reason.

We are often forced to hide, soften, stretch, or maybe even misrepresent certain difficult truths in an effort to protect people, to not embarrass them in a public way. My mother used to call these white lies. We were taught at home that they were essentially okay, understandable and justifiable.

Yet, there isn’t a person alive who hasn’t bent the truth or presented a half-truth for personal gain or to get out of something you didn’t want to do. So, beyond white lies, the question is: how far will you go with stretching or bending the truth?

Unfortunately, lying to get your way can work or appear to work for you. But just because you manage to get away with it once – or even a few times – does not mean that it’s a good way to live because the truth matters.

We all need to accept responsibility for our actions, our behaviours, our general comportment and self-regulation. It is no surprise to you that baseline honesty or truthfulness is a key pillar of good citizenship, and a consistent record of honesty and dependability impacts one’s overall personal integrity and what we tend to refer to as character and one’s reputation. Honesty and consistency of behaviour help build a sense of trust, which is critical to stable friendships and harmonious family, work and community relations. It actually takes a long time to forge a solid reputation. However, if one becomes known for being a liar, all that you’ve built can collapse overnight.

I recently heard an interesting podcast by a Stanford University education professor and psychologist, Dr. Bill Damon. This noted psychologist has studied many attributes of human behaviour and has identified a trend in North America. More and more people seem to be lying primarily in an effort to boost their ego or simply for personal advantage in an increasingly competitive society.

Obviously, that’s not a good development. Professor Damon expresses a concern as a psychologist, that people who are inclined to lie about things are actually also being self-deceptive. They need to realize that his research also shows that such people are generally less competent, which can be very destructive in the long run. In essence, lying to yourself or to others catches up to you. Not facing the truth head-on is an easy way out but it doesn’t pay off in the long run.

Professor Damon’s work reminds us about the importance of foundational ideals such as honesty. He says that we often need to work hard to get to the truth. He also asserts that we need to defend the value of conversation, reasoning, debate, discovery, insight and, ultimately, the defence of truth, especially in schools where learning and ideas are paramount. If we were to allow lying and the law of the jungle to dominate, it will surely undermine our community and social fabric.

As you know, there’s a lot of talk these days about “fake news” – the fact that your inbox and social media networks are full of information expressly designed to deceive you or pull you over to the position of a particular friend, interest group or politician. So, discerning truth from falsehood – and the courage to defend the truth, is indeed honourable and principled – is now perhaps more important, yet more difficult than ever.

You can be certain that the defence of truth is what our founder Dr. Fosbery envisioned for his school in 1909 and was what our Canadian forefathers envisioned for this country 150 years ago as a key virtue for a free society. So I urge you today to stand up for honesty. Don’t deceive yourself; your personal development, your reputation and our society’s greater good all depend upon it!

Round Square Regional Conference: Learning to Be My Best Self

RS_ArgentinaThe Round Square Regional Conference of the America’s at Belgrano Day School sadly came to an end on April 25, 2017 – too fast for everyone participating in the conference.

Round Square is something that I have always had an interest in. Its philosophy of uniting six diverse IDEALS (International, Democracy, Environmentalism, Adventure, Leadership, Service) into one way of life is unique and definitely something that I wanted to be a part of.

I found out about this conference in Argentina a year ago. I remember having a good feeling about it and instantly wanting to go. After talking to students who had just came back from the conference in LA, I knew that it was something for me. The experiences they had and the lessons they learnt about being well-rounded powerful leaders were ones that I too wanted to embrace. Never did I think that my decision to go would have had such a positive impact on me.

Argentina, even though it is troubled in certain political, economic and social sectors, has a special and unique thing about it that is quite hard to find – a positive environment/atmosphere. From the moment I entered the doors of Belgrano Day School, not once was I subjected to negative energy. Everyone and everything gave off positive energy, fuelling everyone’s happiness throughout the week. Friendships were started with a laugh, hardships were overcome with a hug and tears came purely from laughing too hard. This helped change the conference from being great to being amazing.

During the conference, the delegates had the opportunity to embrace whatever was thrown their way due to the positive and supportive environment of the conference. From the workshops and Ben Walden’s amazing speech to Techo and the Photo Safari Day, these experiences brought us together and taught us about leadership, service and responsibility. They showed us the importance of teamwork and dedication. Techo was truly an eye-opening experience. In the short time we spent there, my barazza and I pooled our efforts to create the base of the house we were constructing. The family it was going to was one that consisted of three lovely ladies – a mother and her two daughters. At the end of the day, even though we were all physically drained, I will never forget the smile on those two little girls’ faces as they ran across the elevated floor. It made every second and every bit of sweat worth it. Their happiness was all we needed to come together and create something life changing for those humble and nice people we got to volunteer for.

My experience went above and beyond the lessons learnt about the IDEALS. I have to admit that this trip was the first one I was experiencing alone. At first, I was slightly scared because I was travelling to South America, a continent so far from home, a place I never thought of visiting. On the day of the opening ceremony, Mr. Page, the former headmaster of Belgrano Day School, made everyone feel welcome by beginning his speech accompanied by four teddy bears. The four teddy bears represented a hug for anyone who was homesick. I thought I would be one of those people needing a teddy to hug. Instead, the opposite happened. In Argentina, I never felt more at home. It’s culture and way of life is very similar to my own as I am part Italian. Right from the beginning, starting with my amazing host family, the Alonsos, I was welcomed with a hug and a huge smile. They were truly one of a kind. They share strong family values and traditions like my own family and the respect they have for each other and others is an example. I felt like I was with my family in Italy and in Montreal. My host family, with their loveable personalities, made my stay in Argentina even more memorable.

If I had to choose the most memorable part of my trip I would choose the wonderful people I met. Over the course of six days, I made friendships that I will keep for life. Whether they were delegates or student leaders, 15 or 17 years old, I connected with all of them. Many friendships started in interesting ways; some were started right in my barazza, with friendly competition when playing field hockey, with playful teasing, and with rock-paper-scissors in the middle of a food court. They made you feel welcome and when you were with them you felt positive. I realized the importance of surrounding oneself with positive people, the importance of having a positive attitude and the effects of positive energy in everyday life. It taught me a lot about myself and who I want to surround myself with. In such a short time we came together and formed a tight bond which I will never forget.

A big thank you goes to all the dedicated and passionate student leaders and organizers of this conference. The memories created are owed to them. With their outgoing, cheerful and friendly personalities, it made the conference successful. Their enthusiasm and smile was contagious and made this experience worth remembering.

This Round Square Conference in Argentina will be remembered forever. It has taught me the importance of service, leadership and leading by example. Most of all, it gave me insight on how to be my best self.

Thank you LCC and Ms. Shadley for this amazing opportunity! – MariaLuisa Vigano ’18

Student Exchange: The School Experience Down Under

William_Hamilton1I am writing this blog from the plane, over the Pacific Ocean. Leaving everyone I met in Adelaide was a very difficult and sad thing to do, but I can’t wait to see everyone back home. Even though my last four weeks at Westminster were less active than Westventure, they were no less fun.

The weekend I returned from the trip, I went to my first Aussie Rules Football game, and I absolutely loved it. To be fair, I knew I would, because any sport that involves running, kicking and tackling would interest me. The Adelaide Crows won the game and, four games into the season, they are Premiership favourites. I have decided that I will try to follow the AFL from Montreal.

I then had to come back to reality and actually go to school. However, Westminster School is nothing short of great. In some ways, it’s very similar to LCC. For example, they have a house system, they have a core class, but also some elective courses to choose from. On the other hand, some things are extremely different. Between each class, you walk outside – even in winter! Also, they have seven classes in a day but they only last 40 minutes. Finally, lunch is completely different. You can either bring your own lunch or buy food from the canteen. However, there is no cafeteria; you can eat anywhere in the school. Every day, I would eat outside on the field.

The following weekend, my host family took me down to their beach house in a small town called Middleton. As I was hoping, Thijs taught me how to surf. Although I wasn’t exactly a pro, I did manage to stand up a few times. Also, we went for bike rides around the town and visited a wildlife park called Urimbirra, where I fed kangaroos and saw all kinds of Australian animals such as koalas, emus, cassowaries and echidnas.

After another good week of school, on Friday, April 7, we left school a few hours early to catch a flight to Melbourne. It is honestly one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to. The whole downtown area is built around the Yarra River and I had a really good time. We went up the Eureka Tower and did “The Edge.” You walk into a glass box and the box moves three metres out of the building. It was a pretty scary experience but also one to remember. We also went to a family friend’s Porsche 911 race and I got to sit in the racecar and rev the engine. We then flew back to Adelaide on Sunday in time to go to school on Monday morning.

My third week at school was my final week, because Westminster had a break starting on the Thursday. Immediately after school, we went on a five-day trip to a small town called Marion Bay in Innes National Park at the tip of Yorke Peninsula. Throughout the national park there are countless undeveloped beaches. Every day, we went to a new beach. We went swimming, bodysurfing, body boarding, surfing, hiking, sand boarding and exploring. We even discovered a rock pool at one of the beaches and went swimming in it. Altogether, it was an amazing trip. I can’t remember ever having seen such beautiful uninhabited beaches.

Back in Adelaide, we spent my last few days touring the city and seeing the places I hadn’t gotten the chance to see. Also, for a final goodbye, Thijs and I went to the beach with about 10 other people. It was a great time but also pretty sad.

Looking back now while I’m en route home, I can say that Australia was the time of my life. I met so many amazing people who I will never forget. I also want to take this chance to thank everyone at Westminster for being so welcoming and going out of their way to make my time in Adelaide as good as it could be. More importantly, I’d like to thank the Jaarsma family for being the best host family I could have asked for. You guys took me to do everything I could have hoped to do, and more. I can’t wait to see everyone at home but I promise that I will do everything I can to come back to Adelaide to visit. – William Hamilton ’19, Exchange Student at Westminster School

Round Square Regional Conference: Building Houses and Changing Lives

IMG_3934 IMG_4055Saturday April 22:

On the bus ride to build a house today, I thought that I would just be building a simple house. Little did I know that meeting the people who would live in this house, experiencing their way of life, and the hard work I put into this project would affect me so much. 

After getting off the bus, we walked through a town to get to the land which we would be building on. Except this wasn’t a typical town. There were dirt roads, homes without doors and missing bricks, stray cats and dogs everywhere and kids walking around barefoot. It was a complete culture shock. It was crazy to think that just an hour and a half away from the beautiful city of Buenos Aires, life could be so different. 

When we got to the land where we would be building the house, the family that would be living in the house was already waiting for us. A mother and her seven kids, ranging in age from 2 to 19, greeted us. They were so excited and happy to have us with them. For most of the day, I played with the kids. Although they did not speak a word of English, the bond that I created with them will never be forgotten. They tried to teach me some Spanish and I tried to teach them some English. Despite their living conditions, each of them had a smile on their face and were so happy that people were there to play with them. 

The house we built was placed right next to their current house, which is much smaller than the size of an LCC classroom and did not have enough beds for all of the kids to sleep in. The house had a dirt floor and didn’t have a front door or bathroom. 

When we finished putting up the pillars for the floor of the new house, we all wrote messages on the pillars. When the mom wrote her message she started crying and when I wrote my message, I started getting very emotional as well. That was when I truly realized the impact I had on this family. They will have a clean house to live in with wood floors and life will become a lot easier for them. Their lives will be changed forever because of our hard work. 

When it was time to say goodbye, I knew I didn’t want to leave. The little girls came up to me and gave me lots of hugs and kisses and asked me to come back the next day. I wish I could. I wish I could go back everyday and help this family and the millions of others suffering like them as well. 

As we walked on the road to leave, I started crying. This experience was life changing. It made me realize how grateful I am to have everything I do in life and underlined the importance of never taking anything for granted. It makes me sad to think that I will never see these kids again. 

This was an amazing experience and I am beyond happy that I had this opportunity. – Danielle Cutler ’18

Round Square Regional Conference: Beautiful Buenos Aires

IMG_3417.JPGI began my journey on April 22 at 9 a.m. Half of my Barazza (group) went to visit beautiful Buenos Aires on a city tour. When I read the itinerary I thought we would be sitting on a bus and just looking but I soon realized I was very wrong!

We began by taking the metro from Belgrano to downtown Buenos Aires. After getting there we began walking and little did my group members and I know that we would have a whole day of walking. Throughout the day we ended up walking 17.5 kilometres. Yes, you read that right! 17.5 kilometres! The sites we saw were unbelievably beautiful. We began with the Casa Rosado or Pink House. This is where the government comes to gather to discuss issues. We then saw the theatre here which is ranked number five for best acoustics. It was very impressive. After that we visited the Cathedral. I have seen many churches but this one was by far one of the most impressive. The architecture and design were so beautiful. The paintings on the walls were so authentic.

After a long morning of walking we had lunch in a shopping mall in the district of Recolleta. One of the most famous sites in all of Argentina is the “Cementerio de Recoleta” which I was lucky enough to see. As soon as I walked in my jaw dropped. It was so beautiful. I could not wrap my head around what I was seeing. This was the last stop on my tour of the city. We then took the metro back to school and I went home. That night I was greeted by my host family. We went out for dinner at a famous port. It was amazing. It was a long and eventful day! – Savina Cammalleri ’18