Iceland and What We Owe…

Good morning.

Today is a bit unusual because it is the first day of life without the class of 2010. Those guys will be back for an assembly on Friday and for exams, of course, but their time with us is just about done. Their moving on, as predictable as it is, is still a bit unsettling. Those empty pews are a reminder that none of us is here permanently – gulp – and that change is constant.

Speaking of change, if you see Ms. Ridout today, you should welcome her back. She was one of the many people stranded on the other side of the Atlantic as a result of the volcanic eruption in Iceland. It’s hard to believe that a relatively small country like Iceland can have such a profound impact on the rest of the world.

Iceland, you may recall, was also one of the countries whose economic downturn affected the world economy last year.  Tom Friedman wrote a best selling book called, “The World Is Flat” in which he highlighted all the international connections that take place seamlessly and invisibly today. While it’s great that you can buy Chilean strawberries in February, if you are so inclined, the downside of this double edge sword is that we are all linked when things go bad, too.

So when a mortgage crisis rips through the US economy, as it did almost two years ago, it does more than just hurt the American financial system. It puts the world economy at risk. In the case of Iceland, there is a rough parallel between the geological and economic realities. A bad eruption there means that we get smoke and ash in European eyes. In the same way, when Reykjavik’s debt goes sour, we are all left with a bitter taste in our mouths.

It’s easy enough,  of course, to see how nations are linked, and when bad things happen, we can instinctively turn our wrath against the folks in Ottawa or London or Washington. What we don’t often focus on, though, are the links we have with one another. If we agree on the macro level that rich countries should do more for developing nations, wouldn’t that same principle hold true on the micro for us as individuals as well?

So my question today is an age-old one: What do we owe one another? Over the weekend I read a letter of gratitude that a very poor athlete had written to the captain of his team, and in it he said, “Thank you. You were always good to me. I was a scrub and sat at the end of the bench, but you never made me feel inadequate. With you as captain, despite my lack of skill, I always felt like I was a part of the team.”

That captain got it. But there are other opportunities for all of us that go far beyond sports:

If you are good at higher-level math, how do you help out a classmate who is struggling – without making him feel like he’s a bother?

When a stranger asks you where an office is, can you do more than simply point the way?

If you see a guy at lunch who looks like he’s got no where to go, can you make room for him at your table, without making him feel like a social outcast?

If you are an IB1 student and you’re at Norval, can you avoid the natural posturing of Grade 11 and instead, even though it may seem a bit artificial and a bit awkward, focus on the anxiety a Grade 7 boy may be experiencing– even as he goes through a lot of posturing himself?

Earlier I mentioned that the IB2 guys will be back with us for one last get together on Friday, and if they are like previous classes, somewhere during that assembly, they’ll sing  something like “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” They tend to like that song, not because it is particularly melodic or because they do it especially well (although they are pretty good at it!). I think they do it because it makes explicit what often goes unsaid. And it may be their way of answering that question about what we need and what we owe one another.


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