Listening

By Craig Gemmell
Head of School

After a day of rain and snow on campus, the GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) met at Lord House on Monday evening. Sitting in the comfortable bay window looking out on Main Street, students and faculty talked about fostering an inclusive school climate. Tuesday’s senior Lobster Bake, a tradition sponsored by Alexis Pappas ’88, brought successful tech entrepreneur Nate Drouin ‘10 back to campus. Nate talked to students with tremendous legitimacy about the virtue of finding a passion and figuring out how to learn what is needed in its pursuit. Wednesday night was a double bill: a faculty discussion about inclusion after dinner followed by a meeting just south of campus, at All-Saints’ Church, to hear about plans for a homeless shelter in Wolfeboro. All interesting and provocative topics. Many viewpoints, ideologies, agendas, stories, realities. I listened intently.

Stepping back, I’m struck by how well all of these heavy conversations went. No venom or cynicism – only curiosity and openness. A student named a reality and asked for advice. Another named prejudices that he’s overcome. A teacher expressed perplexity and sought counsel. Another connected our conversation to a personal experience. A man trying to ensure the safety of his family expressed concern and gratitude. A formerly homeless girl with Wolfeboro roots – now an impressive woman – humanized homelessness. I listened to all and was simultaneously surprised and hopeful about the many eddies in our little cove on the lake.

It was good to be quiet in these discussions, just part of the crowd, because I’ve been under a small but very real spotlight for much of the last few months. I’ve had to talk a whole lot about many things to many different people. And being in the spotlight isn’t so natural to me. I’m a teacher at heart and see my main work as shining the light on others. So I was very happy to be part of the crowd, pretty anonymous, listening far more than talking. In this way, the week offered a refreshing pause.

I turned on the news last night for the first time in weeks. Politics. Poverty. Hate crimes. As I watched, I was reminded of the broader realities we are facing, perhaps the most troubling of which is the widening ideological chasm dividing people from each other both here and abroad. How do we stave off greater divisions in our community? For surely, our school and our town are connected to what’s going on in the wider world. So could it be that having opportunities to share ideas and to listen patiently and respectfully enable us to wade through complexity and to confront issues and differences that might otherwise seem intractable? I think so. Having such opportunities is surely a critical start to examining and addressing confusion and conflict.

To understand situations and each other deeply, we need to have genuine discourse; we need time to talk and to listen. We cannot affect positive change within our school or our local community without such opportunities, but as we find them and create them, and as we engage, we practice at the local level what we need to affect change beyond. Being a part of a school and local community committed to such necessary genuine discourse leaves me feeling, once more, grateful and hopeful about our collective future.