Find your tribe

Posted on September 14, 2018

I read an article this week, called “Find your tribe”. You can read a copy here. This particular article tells of one parent’s experience in finding a supportive network to help her as the parent of a child on the autism spectrum.

However, my mind immediately went back to a situation over ten years ago, in which I was dealing with a student who was unusual in a different way. Jen was scarily clever – especially in Maths – but chronically shy. She had no real friends at school. She would eat alone and spent her lunchtimes reading. Trying to have a conversation with her could be excruciating – for her and for you. She knew that she was “weird” and she was okay with that. She came from a loving and supportive family (her parents may have displayed some of the same personality traits) and we were all confident that she would be okay. She just needed to find her tribe. And, indeed she did – when she left the small school in a small town that she was attending, got to university and enrolled in an Honours degree in Mathematics!

Many of us may have had similar experiences. In fact, rightly or wrongly, my wife and I often say to each other – “We’re all weirdos!”. No offense meant, but we are, aren’t we? And how delightful it is, when we find someone who is weird in the same way that we are. I sometimes tell Year 10 students, as part of the SET planning process, that the secret to happiness is to find and embrace your own particular form of “weirdness”.

Of course, there is a flip-side to individual difference which is also necessary if we are to create a community, and that is tolerance. By “tolerance” I don’t mean just putting up with somebody different (while secretly feeling superior). I am referring to a tolerance which is grounded in respect, humility, kindness and compassion. You will note that these are all among the virtues that we promote at St Paul’s School, aspects of what we consider to be a person of good character.

Childhood and adolescence is the beginning of a journey to self-discovery. The journey can be long, difficult and sometimes lonely. My message this week is that it need not be quite as lonely as it sometimes feels – for either your children, or for you as parents.

I am often amazed as how effectively students at school manage to find their “tribe”. One of the lovely things about our campus is that it has so many distinct zones – each with their own seating, shade and rubbish bins. As far as I know, none of this is organised, yet the students have very effectively created spaces for each of their “tribes”. The tribes vary in their interests, personality types, activities and topics of conversation. Some play handball, some play board games, and others just chat. It is rare to see a student on their own, and it doesn’t ever seem to take new students long to find a place to belong.

As parents and past students, I wonder if you feel that you are part of our community. Do you feel that you belong? If not, and if you would like to, perhaps I can help. There are many ways to get involved and get to know people. I know, for example, that the various Supporter Groups are always looking for volunteers – to assist with canteen duty, cook at sausage sizzles, help to organise raffles. If your child plays sport at school, or is involved in the Music program, you would be welcome to join one of these Supporter Groups. The Junior School can always use helpers to assist with reading groups. I am working to establish a Community Garden Club. We are looking at forming a Community Choir and/or a Community Orchestra. We have a tribe for you – let us know if you would like to join.

Mr Nigel Grant
Executive Director of Faith & Community 

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