Headmaster’s Thoughts – August 2014

Is it learned behavior to become more conscious of prioritizing as one gets older? Certainly, I have realized that saying yes to everyone only increases a responsibility to do things that you should not be doing, that you have no right to do, and that will take away time from what you should be doing. Thus I have learned increasingly to say no. I have learned to say no to boards that want me on them for heaven knows what reason. I have learned to ask for outlines of the purpose of a meeting before salesmen of ANY type call for an appointment (and that is a large category), and I have slowly learned to regretfully decline to have dinner or spend a weekend with people we would not enjoy having dinner with or, even worse, spending a weekend.

This must be the much touted “wisdom” of getting older. I have an acute memory of my many mistakes when I was younger. I remember, to my shame, leaving with my children early from a Rolling Stones concert in order to get to some dinner function which, in hindsight, I should have declined to attend. I remember, out of some pathetic desire not to appear rude, spending a weekend in the country, which anyone in their right mind could have figured out that Jayme and I would have not enjoyed. I remember taking on responsibilities in a variety of areas because I was flattered that they asked, yet did not have the time to complete as effectively as I would have liked.

Now I have learned an honesty which tries to be kind but also is firm. Thank you but no thank you. For many people who call you, the time/cost clock is ticking. I never realized that lawyers whom you hire are charging you for apparently innocent (and non-informative) conversation. That the accountant who wants to “stop by” is going to charge you for the privilege. I suppose that yesterday’s blank time cannot be sold. As one who tries to give more advice to parents whose children we reject, that concept of charging for advice does not sit well with me. In England, when I was a barrister, you were paid only if you accepted the “brief” and then paid for every day actually spent in court. No one counted every six-minute “chunk” that passed. I have difficulty with that concept.

Teachers, by their nature, give of their time freely. At 5:00 p.m., long after school has “closed,” there are teachers still here going over their lessons with students who are looking for some further help. After my Ethics class, I always have continuing discussions with seniors who might challenge me about what was discussed (something I encourage) or have remembered something they wanted to say. Yes, even adolescents get “senior moments.” It is therefore not in the culture of what we do to think of six-minute chargeable sessions.

Age is a very variable thing for me. I consider myself an extremely fortunate man. I am (heaven knows how long) in good health, active, and (to the best of my knowledge) still in reasonable mental condition. I have known people far younger who, through no fault of their own, are in worse shape as well as older people who are in better shape. I remember some of my teachers who seemed to get better in dispensing information and ideas as they approached eighty. Writers whom I admire and then realize they wrote the book in their mid-eighties. Men ten years older I could not keep up with on a running track if my life depended on it.

Everything is relative. There are the young/old and the old/old. Luck places you in one or other cohort.

But to try and stay in the young/old cohort, I have learned to pace myself, not to rush to agree to every meeting or dash to some board or react to some social pressure. Now, a treasured time to be in the school building is late, usually after 9.00pm. That is when I can think about how I set up the next day, review what I did that day with a mind to see if I could have done things better, and generally relax in the quiet sanctuary of my office.

I hope I can keep learning to make the intelligent judgment to say no as I mature.

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster

E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org

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