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Christmas Message from the Head

What would you give yourself for Christmas?  What New Year resolutions might you be keen to make for 2022?
15 Dec 2021
School News

What would you give yourself for Christmas?  What New Year resolutions might you be keen to make for 2022?

Of course, it seems odd to give ourselves a Christmas present and, slightly, selfish – not in the spirit of the time, as it were.

And despite our best intentions, many of us, most of us, will fail to keep our New Year resolutions - we will, often, fall short. The reason is easy to discern: we succumb to distraction and to pressures of life. We fail, indeed, to do what is in our own best self-interest.

The philosopher Kant argued that such a failure was a moral failure in that we fail in our duty to ourselves. He believed that we had a duty, as human beings, to ourselves in terms of cultivating our talents, taking care of our health, developing our abilities. For him, this duty amounted to defending and maintaining our autonomy. By forfeiting our capacities and talents, we diminish our chance to pursue the end that we have set for ourselves and instead serve the interests of others.

Take, for example, an intention to read more. We know that reading is good for all of us – we learn, experience and engage with other minds at a profound level. We see books and articles that we know we ought to read and that we want to read. But distractions lie in wait – from social media to the mobile phone and through these interruptions we are unable to achieve the goal that we have set for ourselves.

The duty to oneself is something, I think, we ought to think about more carefully, especially at Christmas. Kant said that these duties “take place first and are the most important of all”. He goes even further by suggesting that duties to oneself are the foundation of duties to others.  But this is not egotistical nor a call to pursue one’s own happiness at any cost. Human beings, he asserts, have an inherent, absolute value, and as such we have an obligation to respect the humanity within our own person. We must treat our own humanity “as an end, never merely as a means”

All human beings have dignity which is the absolute worth of humanity. It is both objective and unconditional. It is objective in the sense of that it is valuable to everyone and it is unconditional in the sense that it cannot be lost and it holds strong in all contexts. 

Something so valuable demands respect and our actions should express the kind of respect that is becoming of human dignity. And this respect should be directed both outward and inward - to others and ourselves. This dignity is the hallmark of the Christmas message.

So, to repeat, what New Year’s resolution might one make for 2022? What Christmas present might you give yourself? Why not a commitment to reaffirm and re-energise a duty of care to oneself. To make time to cultivate one’s talents and abilities; to exercise and look after one’s mental health. It is not just a good idea, but, according to one of our greatest philosophers, a moral imperative.

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