Courage to be both compassionate and rigorous

I’m very mindful that we have many Naval and ADF families at SCBC. Along with you, they help form our unique sense of community and a ‘shared togetherness’, as we raise our children to be both compassionate and rigorous. When I think of their contribution to our national protection, I think of their courage. When I reflect on our motto, I see courage as the natural precursor to acts of compassion and personal, or collective commitments to rigour. At SCBC, courage and other similar guiding values (like honesty) are drawn from our Christian faith, from our personal belief in a living, loving God.

I hold the view that a key role of schools is to support and promote close families. Education starts from birth when children start learning. Schools join your family’s journey for a relatively short season of time. We see it as our role to supportively nurture the educational wellbeing of your children, further equipping them with ‘literacies’ (i.e. spiritual, academic, emotional, social, and physical). This includes equipping them with values, including; faithfulness, respect, determination, being loving, honesty, wisdom, leadership, being innovative, collaborative, team-minded, and thankful.

An article within a book on ethics recently caught my attention. It’s called: ‘Educating the Stoic Warrior’. It was written by a distinguished University Professor and Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University, Nancy Sherman. She was also the inaugural Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the United States Naval Academy and has authored four books on military ethics. Nancy writes with philosophical objectivity. It is the paradigm (context) in which she constructs her viewpoints.

She suggests being ‘stoic’ teaches the value of self-sufficiency and emotional detachment, two attributes helpful to a fearless warrior.  By definition, a stoic person can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining. She argues: ‘Yet even a fearless and detached warrior must be emotionally aroused to perform great feats when his [her] comrades are in danger. He [she] must have the capacity to mourn for them should they be harmed or killed.’ Nancy suggests the stoic courage applied in the battlefield, probably contributes to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) when applied to civil life.

Perhaps emotional ‘detachment’ is counterproductive if it denies (or distances) the presence of pain and discomfort. It could be argued that uncomfortable feelings essentially contribute guidance for important decision-making. Without them, we are more likely to be ‘detached’ from the reality of our circumstances and situation. There is a contextual viewpoint that argues pain can be ‘our friend’. This is a topic written about extensively by Philip Yancy in a book called: ‘Where is God When it Hurts?’. He uses the example of having a disease (e.g. leprosy) that dulls and/or deadens pain receptors. The result is damage to the affected limbs. Pain helps highlight the presence of a real and significant problem.

Within Nancy’s essay about stoic warriors, she brings to the reader, the actions of retired Chief Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, a person some have referred to as ‘the hero of My Lai’. He was belatedly awarded the prestigious Soldiers Medal for his valour It related to an incident on March 16th, 1968. He was flying an observation helicopter when he spotted several injured people, including an unarmed young woman who appeared to be approximately 20 years old. For reasons only familiar to the American GI’s (soldiers) on the ground, the injured became targets of hateful animosity, and began being shot. He recalls experiencing distressing feelings of moral outrage, and reacted by landing his helicopter in the middle of the action. In doing so, he protected the life of at least one remaining civilian. In that moment, he ceased being singularly ‘stoic’, and allowed an infusion of compassionate feelings to guide his response.

My point in sharing this insight. At SCBC, we are educating your children to actively seek their moral compass from God. Philosophy is a helpful framework for reasoning, but it can become ‘objectively amoral’ (lacking rightness or wrongness), in the absence of seeking a loving God’s sense of justice, and ‘human excellence’. Christians draw upon the gift of the Holy Spirit to be a helper, especially for difficult life decisions.

At SCBC, we are blessed as a community to have ADF members and their families with us, sharing the journey of educating young people. Their courage is commonly inspiring, reflecting the unconditional value of human existence, and the right for all Australians to experience feeling safe. If you are an ADF family, we love and appreciate your contribution to our collective wellbeing. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

Des Mitchell