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New Year, New Connections

The close of one year and the start of another often makes us reflect on what has been and what lies ahead, despite the fact that none of us really changes significantly as the minute-hand passes midnight and the new year begins. I have never been a fan of the hype around New Year’s Eve but I do see the value in having time to reflect and to think about the positive changes that we might want to make for the future. However, it was only as the end of 2019 approached and the media began reviewing the major events of the last ten years, that I started to think about the fact that we are entering not just a new year but also a new decade. 

With the pace of life in the 21st century, a ten-year stretch can represent some dramatic changes.   There is no doubt that the 2010s were eventful politically and socially in the UK, but ten years can also encompass momentous change at a personal level. Nowhere is this more startlingly apparent than within a senior school community: our oldest pupils were just eight when the decade began and our youngest were still toddlers, so their lives have certainly changed since the 2010s began. 

On 1 January 2020, a diverse group of cultural and religious leaders – including the heads of the British Olympic and Paralympic Associations, the Scouts and Guides, leaders of both the Leave and Remain campaigns, and representatives from business and the arts – challenged people to leave the “decade of division” behind and make the 2020s a decade of reconnection. Their open letter calls for greater social integration and encourages people to make a new year’s resolution to engage meaningfully with those around them:

“Too often we hear that our divisions – by class or geography, by politics, age, race or by faith – have come to define us. If we are not happy with the state of our society, it falls to us all to do something about it.

Our resolution is to reconnect. To reach out to just one person we don’t know, or from whom we have drifted apart. To start rebuilding connections between neighbours and fellow citizens. While our politics and media have become more polarised we, as people, have not. There is much that we share with each other.

Today is about a small first step that we can all take – to leave behind a decade of division and begin our decade of reconnection.”

When I look back at 2010 and consider the important events of the intervening years, the moments that stand out to me are almost all about the human connections that I value most in my life: the births of my son, my nephew and niece; the day we learnt that my husband’s three-year-old godson had leukaemia, and the trip we took to Lapland four years later to celebrate his last dose of chemotherapy as he moved into remission; walking into the resuscitation room at Southampton Hospital where my mother had been airlifted following a near-fatal accident; meeting new colleagues and pupils in my working life; celebrating a ‘big’ birthday with friends and family; being present at weddings, christenings and funerals to mark those milestones in our lives with people who matter to me.  The list goes on but, from the happiest to the saddest events, the sense of being connected to others is integral.   

In his new year address, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, explored this theme of connection further as he considered how we can go about “healing some of the divisions that we’ve seen over recent years”.  Speaking at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s station in Dover, he talked about how the volunteers there are signs of hope in the way they embody a willingness to reach out and connect. 

“We rightly think of lifeboat crews as heroic, although they may be embarrassed to hear that.  Yet every time we reach out and connect with someone, it is an act of heroism. Don’t underestimate it.

It could be someone you know. It could be someone you’ve always wanted to connect with but never have. It could be someone you really disagree with. 

Let’s go for a heroic New Year’s Resolution. Let’s resolve to reconnect. To reach out to just one person we don’t know, or from whom we have drifted apart.

Pick one person. Pick up the phone. Send them a text. Meet them for a cup of tea.

Make that connection. Let's begin cementing our unity one brick at a time.”

St John’s is a community of around 1,000 pupils and staff. I talk often to our pupils about the strength and value of our community but we can always do more to focus on those things we share and to be accepting and appreciative of differences rather than looking for things that separate us.  From the big projects to build lasting links with local groups, inviting others into our school and supporting causes close to our hearts, to the seemingly insignificant personal daily interactions of messaging a friend you haven’t seen in a while or being kind to a classmate who is having a bad day, we can all connect more. I am sure that this year, and this decade, will be richer and more rewarding if we focus less on what divides us and more on the strength of our human connections. 

Happy New Year!

Rowena Cole is The Head of St John's School.  Follow her @rowenacole01 and stay in touch with all the news at St John's by following us @StJohnsSurrey