1/9/17 In Review

Chapel on January 9, 2017 was held in St. John the Divine, the speaker was Head of School Mark Desjardins, and the theme was kindness and tolerance.

“I tend to agree with Mr. Desjardins’ speech from Monday. Although perhaps not the most captivating, the message of a need for kindness in our atmosphere is much needed. A specific thought I want to spotlight was citing the need for kindness regardless of religion. We’re just weeks away from the inauguration of President Donald Trump, and I’m not expecting a great deal of religious tolerance from his administration. In particular, I’m concerned for the rights of Muslims in the United States and the prejudices they face. I’d encourage all of our club members to be sensitive to their position, regardless of our own (lack of) religious affiliation. I’ll leave it at that and let other students discuss the speech in more detail.” -Lincoln Dow


“The chapel speaker this week, our principal, stated how in our society today, especially for millennials, Achievement is always placed above happiness and kindness and urged students to uphold the SJS community’s ideal senses of happiness and kindness. (He mentioned some awful things about the Stanford marching band which although I won’t touch on in this I felt was very biased since he only used the incident to increase the reality of his argument while neglecting other factors of that situation) After this, he brought his audience back to the fact that the mission statement of the school does not refer anywhere to academic success, but rather highlights his previous statement.
I guess my thoughts about this is that achievement is held higher than happiness and kindness, and from what I think, should be. Now, my argument for this. If one were going to be thrown into society as a working individual who contributes to society, this person (Call him person A) would need to rely on his previously obtained knowledge and skill, hence his past achievements, in order to positively contribute to the rapidly growing 21st century society. However, if another person (person B) only holds his own happiness in regard (Happiness was not specified as it could mean self indulgence or following of morals or even happy of one’s success) and below that holds kindness to others in regard, said person would not have any qualifications and would get a minimum wage job. At this point, we could praise the person B who cares for others and himself as most people would treat this person kindly and vise versa…but said person B would feel the blunt of society and life’s harsh reality of simply just scraping by enough money for a living. Person A however, with achievements in mind, can successfully contribute society and impact it in ways that can help others tremendously in whatever way he pleases (This is broad of course. Either by giving to charity, supporting a cause, creating job opportunities, etc.) and according to our speaker wouldn’t be an example of the SJS mission statement that holds these traits of kindness and happiness.
However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t merit to the speaker’s argument which I will give credit where it is due. This is an example I am well familiar with but probably many have not heard so please bear with me. I will spare names and specifics for simplicity. A famous Electronic Sports (Esports) player was part of a team for a competitive video game that consists of many tournaments throughout the year. The team consists of a 5 man roster. This player though, while exceedingly skilled and practically anointed in past achievements, failed in a very important area which was respect for his teammates, and also he did not uphold the entire team in higher importance than himself. The problems that this caused are that the other players of this team coordinated/communicated/played poorly with said player and ultimately caused not only for the team to lose tournaments, but also for the team to disband because his disrespectful behavior towards his team and teammates and in-acknowledgement of his teammates’ reasons, feelings, or opinions. While said player’s skill is still highly regarded by the community of esport’ers for this video game, his reputation as a bad teammate ruins teams he plays on that want to win these tournaments. The moral of this example is that achievement and skill can only take a person so far and traits and characteristics that allow for human relation are also imperative. I think this is so because we do in fact (no matter how much we don’t want to) live in a society which is based around human interactions. Like seriously, go one day without talking to a single person or acknowledging their existence…It’d feel pretty abnormal and strange.
In conclusion, I feel the balance is to be highlighted rather than the side of ‘achievement is a greater priority’ or that ‘happiness and kindness are greater priorities’. The speaker’s argument leaned so heavily to the side of kindness and happiness that he discredited himself by not having true relations to the reality of society, but rather, the ‘expectations of the mission statement’.” -Alex Ham


“Another day, another gathering of awkward silences and squirming atheists, another basic human value muddled by poorly articulated ideology, entombed in layer after layer of misplaced blame and problematic almost-logic.
This rotation, Dr. Desjardins attempted to discuss the importance of kindness through victimizing the Harvard men’s soccer team, whose season was cancelled after the school discovered a document containing ratings of the women’s team based on sex appeal, blaming society’s obsession with success on “our generation,” and implying we should only be nice to others because we signed a contract saying we would, amongst other things.
Sadly, instead of opening with a familiar fishing story, Dr. Desjardins began his speech with a reminder of our “daily mission and core principles” as members of the St. John’s community: care, honesty, courtesy and consideration, loyalty and spirited devotion, and dignity and good taste. He elaborated on those, mentioning that although kindness was not specifically included on the list, it was just as essential to being a good member of the SJS community.
He then went on to talk about commitment, inquiring as to if any of us had ever been committed to something (spoiler alert: the answer is yes). As opposed to referring to the arts, or Model UN, or even just your basic freshman English project, Desjardins predictably moved on to discuss commitments to sports.
Upon presenting us with a hypothetical event — the commitment — Desjardins supposed the event might be cancelled, much to our disappointment, proclaiming that ‘This has actually happened! Multiple times!’ with all of the shock of a pastor preaching about ‘the gays’ (hate to break it to you fam, but things get cancelled; that’s how life works).
For some reason, Dr. Desjardins switched gears to mention several college sports teams, clubs, etc. who had been recently penalized for racism, sexism, and/or homophobia, including the Harvard men’s soccer team. Not only did he go so far as to list such groups in this twisted mourning of good times lost, he actually called them the ‘latest to fall victim to being grossly insensitive.’
This is rather problematic for a multitude of reasons. Most importantly, those who perpetuate hate and treat others as less than human beings are not victims. Regardless of intention, those people are still the ones hurting others, not the ones being hurt; they only suffer if others call them out on their bs.
Furthermore, the actions committed by those in the aforementioned groups are more demeaning and legitimately harmful than ‘grossly insensitive;’ sexual harassment is definitely gross, but insensitive is such an understatement that it fails to capture the awful essence of the act.
Desjardins attributed such events to an ‘absence of kindness,’ which he suggested could then be traced back to our current political climate or perhaps social media.
While a lack of compassion is surely at play here, blaming political discourse and social media for sexual harassment, while they may affect, condone, or encourage it, is incredibly unproductive. Instead of blaming unseen forces for someone’s mistakes, holding them responsible for their own actions is a much more effective way of preventing such occurrences in the future.
After this brilliant point about the supposed lack of kindness in modern times (which is almost entirely based off of people’s tendency to idealize the past), Dr. Desjardins claimed that ‘this generation’ is mostly responsible for our current failings as a society, further insinuating that ‘millennials’ care more about success than happiness or kindness before attempting to urge us that success is not, in fact, the most important thing in the world.
Yet, the pervasiveness of obsession with success is not a ‘generational’ thing; we have been taught by our parents, our coaches, our teachers, our culture, and our society that success is the ultimate factor in leading a happy life. The importance of success infuses our daily lives, as every class, every test, every twenty point pop quiz could possibly determine our future, whether that be college, career, or lifestyle (which I have always been taught are the same).
Perhaps you could argue that these teachings are the fault of my family environment and nothing more. Perhaps I only have myself to blame for buying into this lofty idea that good grades lead to a good college leads to a good job leads to a good life and nothing beyond that really matters in the long run.
Regardless, blaming ‘our generation’ for what we are taught and often forced to believe, blaming us for your enforcement of success-based ideals, does nothing but separate yourself from the problem at hand and allow you to feel some false sense of security that none of this is actually your fault.
The speaker went on to emphasize how essential kindness is, imploring the audience to practice benevolence not because it is our basic obligation as a person to be at the very least decent to others, but because the St. John’s mission statement requires we do so.
Herein lies the most basic fault of this speech: kindness is not exclusive to St. John’s and the administration (or the community, for that matter) is not superior because they promote a quality all humans should have.
While I certainly agree with the idea that kindness is a crucial and fundamental aspect of humanity, relying on a mission statement to argue that we as a society must do better to practice it (instead of insisting we practice empathy for all regardless of race, gender, sexuality, etc., working to change the rhetoric and culture of St. John’s, or even just catering to our humanity) is ineffective and practically pointless.
Towards the end of his speech, Dr. Desjardins reminded us to be thankful for our privilege, not because so much of the student body is white, straight, able-bodied, and fairly well off, or because St. John’s offers rare opportunities and a prestigious education, but because St. John’s as an institution possesses unique, powerful values that the majority of humans believe in but still, for some reason, make us special.
Further Highlights:
- Witnessing a total of three people and maybe two teachers participate in the opening hymn as everyone else stared blankly at the ceiling, hoping for some sort of natural disaster to end their suffering.
- Listening to two separate prayers, one of which being the Lord’s Prayer, the other being a general hope for the wellness of the student body and such, which for some reason needed to be addressed to God because I guess it’s too difficult to wish happiness on people without relating it to Christianity?
- Lindsay Gobillot’s performance of Adele’s ‘Remedy,’ which was both wonderful and incredibly relevant, especially considering she sung a ballad written for Adele’s four year old son about motherly devotion and the speech following it focused on the value of being a good person.
- Dr. Desjardins using the classic ‘there’s this one study’ line without stating the name of the study, year of publication, or other studies that corroborate the information found in the first study because, as we all know, if a study says something, it’s definitely accurate.
- The brief mention of ‘God-given gifts,’ a phrase that neglects both the very real prominence of privilege at SJS and the fact that I actually worked for where I am (though privilege certainly helped) and attributing my success to God is a tad bit insulting.
- The awkward attempt to incorporate leadership into the speech because of the administration’s uncomfortable fixation on how ‘everyone can be a leader,’ even though, by definition, the majority of people cannot be leaders, so it’s not even relevant enough to warrant just a brief shout-out.
- The fact that this entire speech was basically a twisted effort to make sure everyone behaves because discipline is scary.
Once again, this week’s speech argues for an aspect of humanity that should be easy enough to champion and defend yet fails to give meaningful religious context for while expressing more than a few problematic thoughts. Grade: C for Close enough, I guess.” -Anonymous Contribution

Thanks for reading Chapel In Review! We’ll post again on January 19, 2017. Contributions have been edited slightly for style and grammar.

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