On Wednesday 11th September, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick came to deliver his annual speech to the new C Block ahead of their community engagement programme. Lord Hastings’s career has been nothing short of spectacular and fulfilling, having held positions within business, media, politics, and social governance, currently serving as the Vice President of UNICEF.
He started his talk by reading out a list of the top 5 characteristics that were deemed most important at the recent World Economic Forum for effective leadership. Amongst creativity and problem-solving, the most valued traits concerned people-skills and emotional intelligence: skills that require an outward-looking mindset and a focus on serving others, not just the self. Hastings, the polymath that he is, went about explaining this through means of an analogy by referring to Tardigrades, an extraordinary microscopic species that has the capacity to withstand the most extreme conditions on Earth. In an age where the microscopic or the conceptual can be too easily dismissed as unimportant, Hastings warned us that we run the risk of underestimating key human values such as ‘humility’ and ‘empathy’.
To remind us of how fundamental these principles are, he recounted many great examples of people in the last century who have demonstrated extraordinary levels of self-sacrifice to connect with a goal greater than themselves. The true story of ‘Easy Eddie’, the man who chose to risk his life by tipping off the police about the mafia, so that he could teach his son how a good man should live, is nothing short of inspirational. By upholding tenets of honesty and integrity, Easy Eddie was killed but made a lasting impression on his son, Edward O’Hare, who himself went on to display the highest level of bravery as a US Air Force pilot during the Second World War.
Such narratives from the past serve to inspire us all about the feats which have been achieved by people committed to upholding their moral principles and doing whatever it takes to ensure our society “works not for a privileged few but for every single one of us”, as Theresa May put it; even if this entails sacrificing one’s life for the greater cause of others. In our own lives, we should feel compelled to try to enact small but meaningful acts of service to others in our community, be it within but also outside Eton. As C Block prepare to set sail on their own volunteering undertakings, Hastings encouraged them to aim to be active and engaged citizens, committed to sharing and giving back to others. Not only can we enrich others’ lives in whatever role we choose to play, but we too can grow and develop emotionally through our interactions with them.
Having already undergone the C Block Community Engagement programme last year and wishing to pursue further volunteering opportunities, I felt that Lord Hasting’s words were an exhilarating breath of fresh air, aimed at reminding us of our purpose as students of an educational institution. As Ralph Waldo Emerson alluded to, we need to throw ourselves wholeheartedly into what we do, pursue it with unbridled enthusiasm, and make our mark out there.
Philip Balkan OS ME (JCAJ)