Non Sibi Sed Cunctis. Latin for “not for oneself, but for all.” Easy to say, “not for oneself, but for all.” When I tell prospective students and parents that this is our school motto, heads nod in approval as if to say, “Not for oneself, but for all—that’s a good thing.”
Indeed, it is a good thing to live “not for oneself, but for all.” But what does that mean exactly? What does living “not for oneself, but for all” actually look like? How do I live “not for oneself, but for all” when I have so many responsibilities and commitments each day…breakfast check, classes, rehearsal, practice, homework, the college process, my CES, dorm duty? Good questions…ones I hope that we, adults and students alike, will ask ourselves repeatedly this year.
“Leave it better than you found it.” Another phrase now heard regularly on campus. Some years ago, I included that advice in my parting words to seniors: “leave it better than you found it, whoever, whatever and wherever it is.” In my remarks at Convocation in 2015, I asked us to practice leaving it better than we found it as individuals and as a community. I’m delighted that “leave it better than you found it” has now become part of our campus vernacular and community expectations. I consider it to be another way of saying, “not for oneself, but for all.”
Which begs another question, “How do we leave it better than we found it?”
The answer begins with developing and practicing empathy…with an effort to understand something—an experience, an incident, a relationship, a space—from the perspective of the other person or persons involved. For example, you are in a disagreement with someone, for whatever reason, instead of being angry and frustrated—that is, thinking solely of yourself and your wants and needs—you might try to see the situation from her perspective. You might try to listen, to understand her feelings and views. You hope she will do the same for you in return, but you can only control your attitude and actions. You try to demonstrate and practice empathy.
Another example: you’re with a group of student leaders in the Barn at 10:30 p.m. The place is a mess after a long, busy day. You and your friends begin to do the right thing; you clean up, as you want to leave it better than you found it. But wait, are you cleaning up to your standards or to those of Manuel, the custodian? While you are doing the right thing, if you don’t think of the task from Manuel’s perspective you may create more work for him.
And, really, how hard is it to take a moment, a deep breath to try to think of the situation from the perspective of the other…of our friends, our colleagues, our teachers, our director, our coaches, our student leaders. To walk in their shoes, as the saying goes. This doesn’t mean that we will always agree with that perspective. However, we should try to understand it…and to respect it.
The key to doing that is to be curious...to want to understand…to be willing to keep an open mind. Curiosity, one of Millbrook’s five core values, is our theme for the 2017-18 school year. Of all the things that we, your teachers, could teach you, we believe that these five—respect, integrity, stewardship, service and curiosity—are essential to preparing Millbrook graduates for college AND lives of meaning and consequence. We are convinced that the practice of these values is essential to your creating your best selves in ways that serve the greater good. We are certain that the practice of these core values is necessary to construct a healthy, dynamic learning community each year.
Curiosity is a prerequisite for empathy, just as pre-calculus is for calculus, as Spanish I is for Spanish II. When curious, the desire to understand takes the place of the impulse to judge. Questions replace answers. With understanding, the chances are that respect will supplant disdain and disregard.
As a new year begins, as we stand at what Chaplain Hardy calls, “the edge of possibility.” I ask you to listen and to question…to seek understanding…to build bridges to places and with people, even when that may feel uncomfortable.
Curiosity is the catalyst for empathy. And empathy is essential to leaving it—whoever, whatever, or wherever it is—better than we found it.