13 March 2023

The Monday Briefing: The Invisible Man

The Monday Briefing: The Invisible Man

Moral fibre: The capacity to do what is right, no matter the circumstance. A person with moral fibre does not do things to intentionally harm others, and, when given the opportunity, does things to help the less fortunate.

It’s really interesting to study how, over time, the meanings of words and phrases can change.

LMF or Lack of Moral Fibre was originally used as a punitive designation used by the RAF in World War Two to stigmatise aircrew who refused to fly operations. This all began as a response to concerns over a mounting number of psychological casualties in Bomber and Coastal Command. Identified pilots who were deemed as LMF had a large red W marked on their files, meaning ‘waverer.’ They would lose their flying badges, be refused ground jobs in the RAF, be assigned menial tasks, called for coal mines or drafted into the army. Almost three quarters of those who refused a mission were described as LMF, though I don’t expect that, during that period, there were scientific methods of determining the true state of mind of pilots in a time before PTSD was identified.

Nowadays, the term refers more to the substance of character within an individual rather than whether one would bravely, audaciously or recklessly even, take on any challenge.

I’m quite keen on the phrasing around moral fibre. It’s something that students can easily identify with, particularly when one alludes to the two extremes of it - from the depths of moral bankruptcy to those who strive to be moral millionaires.

In looking into this subject, I stumbled upon an excellent article in the Guardian discussing the release of a book by Rachel Sherman which detailed the moral dilemmas of the New York rich, who felt a degree of guilt over their wealth, and adopted the ‘three characteristics’ of good people: 

-Firstly, good people work hard. Across the board, these affluent parents described themselves as hard workers, drawing on general associations in American Dream ideology between work and worth. They valued self-sufficiency and productivity, and rejected self-indulgence and dependence. Those who had earned their wealth wore their paid employment proudly. Those who had inherited wealth or did not currently work for pay resisted stereotypes of laziness or dilettantism, and offered alternate narratives of themselves as productive workers.

-Secondly, good people are prudent consumers. They described their desires and needs as basic and their spending as disciplined and family-oriented. They asserted that they could live without their advantages if they had to, and distanced themselves from negative images of consumption such as ostentation, materialism and excess. These interpretations allowed them to believe that they deserved what they had, and to cast themselves as normal people rather than rich ones.

-The third requirement for being a good person is the obligation to “give back.” Often to give back means to be aware of and appreciate their advantages rather than to take them for granted – an essentially private state of feeling. Many gave away money, and time as well, in charitable enterprises of various kinds.

If one was to ask the students at Ealing about their ambitions, to be in the position of these privileged New Yorkers would be high on the list: to live a life of luxury, in comfort, having found great success sounds extremely appealing indeed.

The three core values promoted here, however, makes for excellent guidance for our students:

-Work hard

-Remain humble

-Give back to the community which contributes to your success

These three values can not fail to bring a very high degree of moral, and likely material wealth, and if every student at the College adopted these, and lived them, day to day, and then beyond their time at EIC, they’d all make a tremendous contribution to a positive society.

The fact of the matter is, however, that such a utopian vision has not yet been realised, neither at EIC nor beyond the walls of our College.

I’ve been contemplating my role at the College a great deal of late.

It’s an exciting time to be Principal at Ealing. The College is growing in terms of demand amongst potential new students, it is about to benefit from a great deal of investment to improve the facilities we have. The Parent Survey showed overwhelming support of the work we are doing in turning lives around and the efforts we make in maximising the progress of all of our students.

Perhaps this is what makes it so frustrating when I, personally, have to bring in further measures of discipline for the handful of students who don’t grasp the necessity of meeting the high expectations set for them at the College.

There have been times, lately, where I’ve wished that I could have been in two places at once so that I can maintain my output in the classroom whilst increasing the heat on those who lack the moral fibre I’ve discussed in the blog this week. I must, however, remember that for many students this time of year is extremely dark. Exams looming, the realisation that the challenge which lies ahead of them is growing, with some of them in denial about where they are in their own personal journey to overcome it. There are parallels to a similar point in last year, when I issued a strongly worded assembly to make clear that there was a way through - that the night is darkest just before the dawn - that what they need at this point is moral fibre to get through it.

Readers may have noticed a reference to Harvey Dent’s optimism in ‘The Dark Knight’ during that last sentence. Much like Harvey Dent, I’m no superhero - there is a limit to what I can do.

The power that I do have, and it’s one that I know makes a difference, is presence - being for want of a better phrase, ‘The Visible Man’. I’ve been maximising my visibility around College, doing so to let students know that the standards rich in moral fibre that I adhere to, and that I expect of the students, go around with me.

I’ll continue to do so, every spare minute I have, because I know it makes a difference. The difference that it makes - to groups or individuals - could prove the difference between success and ultimate disappointment.

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