What society do we want in a post-COVID-19 world?

July 14, 2020

By Dr John Collier, Head of St Andrew’s Cathedral School

During the bushfire crisis which spanned the end of last year and the beginning of this year, we observed wonderful examples of generosity of spirit and self-sacrifice by Rural Fire Service volunteers, other firefighters and paramedics.

Similarly, late in April, we commemorated the ANZAC spirit – of sacrifice, mateship, loyalty and courage. Meanwhile, cynics in our society observed that we celebrate these attributes only on one day of the year, and for the remainder of the time ignore them or function in a very different mode. Are they correct? The unseemly images of people fighting in supermarkets over rolls of toilet paper soon after the onset of COVID-19, fuelled their view. What kind of society do we live in?

It is evident that some of the social glue which holds our community together has melted in recent decades with the onset of hyper-individualism in the Western world. Perhaps this is why such demonstrable instances to the contrary, such as the heroics of our ‘fireys’, are so remarkable.

If we are just individuals existing for reasons of self-advancement, and thereby in conflict with all other individuals attempting to do the same, the landscape is both competitive and lonely. A better way, in my view, is to see ourselves as part of a mutually supportive community. This is part of the genius of schools. All good schools develop a sense of community, where people belong, and where they are valued for who they are, and not just instrumentally.

Part of the Christian ethos of St Andrew’s Cathedral School is to teach students to serve others. Service is built on a presumption that other people matter. By definition, it implies seeking to contribute meaningfully to the community. This plays into our school mission, which is that we aspire, with parents, to graduate young people of character and substance who can make a contribution to the world. It gels with our academic programs, which offer a graduation capacity, platform and pathway into further study which will equip students to live a life of fullness where they assist in human flourishing; their own, and that of other people.

Our school community and the individual students in it are strengthened by the collective support we demonstrate in our care for one another, which has been encouragingly evident in these changing times.