Sometimes a good, sensible essay can settle the mind. Well-crafted sentences with their musicality, their soothing rhythms, and their carefully selected words are almost akin to deep breathing exercises - or baseball games. Meditative. Centering. Moving at their own, requisite pace. This week, as we seem to hurtle towards next week’s presidential elections, I have found it helpful to turn to EB White now that the MLB season is over. His pieces are measured, precise in their totality. Sane. As the Dodgers vanquished the Rays this week, it was not hard to imagine EB White appreciating the games. Today, two volumes of his collected works sit on my desk, so much linguistic sanity. A double header’s worth of pieces.
The essay read today was Freedom, and it was about the length of the top of the 6th when the Rays made a pitching change in the final game of the series. The essay, written in September of 1940, has as a backdrop the World War. EB White writes:
Here in America, where our society is based on belief in the individual, not contempt for him, the free principle of life has a chance of surviving. I believe that it must and it will survive. To understand freedom is an accomplishment which all men may acquire who set their minds in that direction; and to love freedom is a tendency which many Americans are born with. To live in the same room with freedom, or in the same hemisphere, is still a profoundly shaking experience for me.
Students on Ocean Classroom exercising their right to vote by mailing their ballots from Roseway.
What’s worth remembering in this election - no matter the outcome - is that profound regard for freedom. At Proctor we like to say that freedom here comes with “fences”, the norms and rules of our community, but the concept of freedom undergirds everything. We want our students to explore. We want our students to change, to become multi-dimensional. We want them to not just be defined by a singular interest, but to discover all of the pieces that make them feel whole and more complete, ready to engage the broader world. In the larger landscape, we like to see that freedom play out in our alums as they move into careers and communities.
But the freedom of one also comes with the responsibility to respect the freedom of others, as long as the freedoms of the other play within the agreed upon norms of community. Here’s what I know about the lean of this community: we tilt left. Some would say hard left. And I am fine with that as long as it does not infringe upon the well being of others who might lean in the other direction. At Proctor we are a community of Democrats and Republicans. We do not infringe upon the rights of others to exercise their freedoms as long as they operate within the norms of community, and critical to that norm is the concept of respect. Step outside of that norm and one might as well step outside of that community because, in effect, by not operating with respect one is stepping on the community. Trampling it. That trampling can be from the left or the right. We are, and should be, open to the free commerce of ideas, to grow from them, and to perhaps become more whole in the process.
Proctor, like all schools, is approaching next Tuesday with a measure of trepidation. Our hope is that, no matter how the election falls, that communities navigate it with grace, respect, and the honoring of freedom. It may not be easy, but that is what we should be doing. All of us. Perhaps in preparation, and now that the baseball season is over, reading a little EB White might be a good idea. I recommend it. Highly.
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School