Headmaster’s Thoughts – October 2017

I limped into the doctor’s office eight weeks to the day after my surgery. I had torn my Achilles’ tendon in June, and was anxious to know how much longer I would be stiff and sore.

“How am I doing?” I asked, after he examined my leg.

“Doing well!” He replied. “You are right in the middle of the bell curve where you should be.”

Right in the middle of the bell curve? All my life I have tried to avoid being in the middle of the bell curve. All my life I have tried to be ahead of the bell curve. But in the world of medicine my recovery was just average, and I was told that I should be grateful to be there.

We fool ourselves; it is the arrogance of our species. We think that we are special. That somehow we are more than we are. We really believe that we bring more than just average to the equation. But in the end, we are each just an average statistic. We suffer injury and illness according to a statistical average, we recover according to a statistic, and eventually we die according to the statistical average.

This natural bell curve should make those of us who professionally deal with adolescents, more understanding of their seemingly strange ways. Their preoccupation with their peers, their mood swings, and their attempts to shock. They are trying to get out of the bell curve, just as generations of adolescents have done before them. They are seeking an individual identity, and that search gives them a remarkable conformity. The paradox of the teenager!

I hope they understand that adults too, try and escape the statistical mean. We hope for more than just the average, and we expect more of ourselves. And, of course, in the end we are likely to fail. We may individually live a little longer or a little shorter, but as a group, the actuarial tables of our communal life span are exact.

There is a far more positive side to this “average” business. As the cliché goes, “the glass half empty can also be half full”. We are so blessed being who we are in this society at this time, that maybe I should relish my good fortune to be part of this bell curve. Our particular American community enjoys freedoms that give us happiness. All humanity can be awed by sublime music, literature, and art. We enjoy our interactions with others for whom we care. The community does enjoy wonder in the pull of family relationships; the love of child and the love of parent. There the statistics work in our favor. The average there is positive and joyous. As we enter the school year, recognizing that I am just in the middle of a particular medical bell curve, I also should give thanks for doing what I enjoy, having the privilege of interacting with young people, and recognizing that our happy moments far outweigh those that are poignant. And I am learning that I should stop worrying about the fact that I am medically just average and recognize that a regular life can be full and glorious.

Ronald P. Stewart
Head
York Prep School