St Philip’s School Head Master Alexander Thomas discusses why timeless values such as kindness are so important in the modern world

One Monday last year, a Year 6 boy arrived for school clutching a parcel containing a fresh whole trout. He had caught it the previous day, had wrapped it in the weekend papers and was delivering it to me – knowing that I enjoyed fishing and cooking – because he thought I might “appreciate it”. In that moment, the problems lurking in my in-tray suddenly became easier to tackle. The day, and week, were off to a flying start. Where did this boy’s kindness come from? Aside from a naturally pleasant disposition, it came from home, of course, and the values instilled in him by his parents.

It is no coincidence that schools emphasise their values so clearly – they understand their importance to parents. At St Philip’s, for example, we encourage the boys to act ‘with joyfulness and kindness’ every day in every situation. We urge boys to make the most of their talents and take responsibility for their words and actions, and we seek to create a culture of kindness by living according to those values every day, modelling and promoting them consistently. Developing this culture takes time and patience, but it is important work. Not only is this more authentic than any red-letter awareness day, it is also more effective.

“Children notice kindness and appreciate it, and if they benefit from kindness they are more likely to treat others in a similar way”

Children notice kindness and appreciate it, and if they benefit from kindness they are more likely to treat others in a similar way. They are grateful to receive hand-written notes, for example, and are likely to write thank you cards in later life if they receive them in childhood. St Philip Neri is the patron of St Philip’s – and, appropriately, the patron saint of laughter and joy – so he is our model here. “In dealing with our neighbour,” he said, “we must assume as much pleasantness of manner as we can, and by this affability will win him to the way of virtue”.

After schools like St Philip’s, children are certain to be confronted with all manner of challenging situations in their senior school years. This is normal. It is the fate of all children as their bodies and minds develop with great speed – and quite often not in a conveniently parallel way – in the transition from childhood to adulthood via adolescence. If they are to navigate these wondrous but challenging years with any degree of success, they need to call on their values and make wise choices along the way. They need to take responsibility for their actions and the effect that they have on others, and this needs to be second nature.

It is interesting that the solutions to ‘modern’ problems were being discussed by men like St Philip in the 1500s. This is because the values he promoted – such as kindness, tolerance and respect for others’ views – are timeless and the base upon which healthy personal relationships are made. It is not overstating things to say that they are the foundation on which healthy civilisations are also built, and they must be preserved. Marcus Aurelius was more efficient with his words than St Philip but was delivering the same message 1,500 years earlier when he said: “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one”.

St Philip’s School

Further reading: Kent College on the importance of sharing values