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EDUCATION: With Peter Clague, Kristin School

Rain Does Not Fall On One Roof Alone

Kristin School’s Executive Principal, Peter Clague, reflects on the way that the GFC is reawakening our sense of community.

Like many people, I spent a fair bit of time over the summer break contemplating the personal implications of the current global financial crisis. 

I tried hard to ignore it; the lid of the laptop was nailed shut, the hammock groaned under the weight of unread books, and I was happily reacquainted with my jandals.  You would think that a summer such as the one we were gifted this year would have been enough to banish all our worries for a while. Why don’t economic woes wilt like everything else on a humid Auckland afternoon?  Yet all too often, barbeque banter turns to talk of the current lean times and fear of the unknown becomes contagious.  

As far as I can recall, I have not played a direct personal role in the collapse of the world’s financial markets.  Other than hanging on to some Sri Lankan coins on the off-chance that I may go back to that beautiful place someday, I have never been a currency speculator.  The only time I ever bought shares was, with impeccable timing, exactly two weeks before the crash of ‘87.  I have never borrowed more than I could repay and, despite the best efforts of my teenage children, I have never lent more money than I had. I scraped a bare pass in my corporate finance paper at University and, until recently, I thought subprime was how you felt on New Year’s morning.  Yet suddenly I have developed a scary interest in the Official Cash Rate.

No man is an island and, as with most of the world’s population, each of us will probably continue to be touched by the downturn in some way during the coming year.  Whilst we may be upset at being afflicted by the actions of people other than ourselves, we should also realise that, so too, may other people provide the remedy to our ills.  Surely one of the positive outcomes of the current crisis is the re-emergence of a sense of community in many parts of NZ, a reliance and appreciation of those around us.  Across all sectors of society, people seem inspired to pull together as job losses, mortgage woes and price rises hurt their neighbours. “Nothing unites like a common enemy” as the saying goes and clearly many Kiwis are remembering our common culture in the face of an external economic threat.  Remarkably, we have stopped blaming and started aiding each other.  A few years ago, I read with great interest about a small town of Italian migrants in America who baffled doctors with incredibly low rates of disease and mental health problems across the population. By the time medical researchers had eliminated diet, exercise, genetics or medication as the cause of their remarkable good health, it became evident that the magical ingredient was a strong sense of community.  These were people who took the time every day to converse with each other face-to-face, who encouraged the ready mixing of generations around the dinner table every evening and who treasured the young and the elderly especially.  

Theirs was a village in which Christian values, civic pride, and a belief in personal responsibility held sway.  Every person in the town mattered and was made to feel it.  When things were tough for one, they all shouldered a little of the load. I hope that description of community sounds familiar to all who have returned to our schools this year. The North Shore is renowned as one of the highest performing clusters of educational institutions in the country and much of that success is founded on the strong links within and between schools.  Natural and healthy rivalries aside, all schools on the Shore are united in their mission to provide our young people with an affirming sense of belonging and a personal stake in our community.  In my view, schools - all schools – are a big part of the antidote to the current financial challenges of the world because they stress the importance of personal conduct and shared responsibility.

That said, an end to the drought, both climatic and economic, would be welcomed by us all.

by Peter Clague