Being Used for a Mighty Purpose

You’ve probably heard of Greta Thunberg, the remarkable 16-year-old Swedish activist traveling the world to raise awareness of the need to act now on climate change.
There are any number of scientists, including several on this campus, who can educate us on the effects of human activity on the earth’s climate; I heard one of them, Dr. Chip Fletcher from the University of Hawaii, at our annual meeting of California heads of independent schools last June. The case for radical action is clear and compelling (and Dr. Fletcher was urging all independent schools to do more to promote that action); why, then, do we continue to feel helpless? We might think the problem lies elsewhere, such as our leaders rolling back environmental protections as we speak. Greta is a little harsher in her moral judgment: she suggests that we older folks don’t care so much because we know we’re not going to be around much longer, and we are not willing to change our behavior radically at this point. And younger folks get overwhelmed by the scope of the problems.

Last week I spoke with students in high school chapel about the joy of being used for a “mighty purpose,” to quote George Bernard Shaw, “being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances” rather than complaining that “there’s a hole on your side of the boat”! The goal of a Campbell Hall education is to learn whatever we need to accomplish our mighty purpose, which looks different for each student, but in general requires a commitment to growth so profound as to deserve the name “spiritual development.” We need our best scientific skills, mathematical skills, rhetorical powers, leadership skills, an understanding of historical forces, and especially the capacity to work selflessly together towards a higher goal. That’s what Campbell Hall is about - which is why I disagree somewhat with the tactic of skipping school to protest inaction. Activism is a powerful thing, and it can be exhilarating and motivating to feel part of a bigger movement, but the long game requires training our best minds in a variety of disciplines in the most open-hearted way - which happens every day at Campbell Hall.

Greta Thunberg is one of the forces behind a global Climate Strike planned for this Friday, September 20, three days before the U.N. Climate Summit in New York. Rather than promoting missing school, we encourage high schoolers to engage actively in related student-planned and -led lunchtime events on campus. There are also ways to participate digitally. More broadly, we recommend discussing how to engage your student’s own “mighty purpose” as part and parcel of their Campbell Hall education. For example, our little ones can continue to lead the way with recycling and waste-free Wednesdays, building sustainable habits right from the start. There are many student leadership opportunities in local government for older students, including serving on neighborhood councils. Our economics students can join the conversation with the Gates Foundation and others who are researching ways to save the planet that also generate profits. Such conversations begin even in middle school history, and middle school science students prototype their own heat resistant paint to combat the dangers of forest fires, design biodegradable plastic to mitigate pollution in the L.A. river, and research sources of alternative energy. Our Urban Stewards can continue to foster a love for the planet big enough to reinspire our jaded urban sensibilities. We can all move as quickly as our budgets and schedules allow to buses, carpooling, and electric cars; in fact, planning is underway as we speak for the installation of 40 charging stations on campus this fall.

We at Campbell Hall believe, along with Margaret Mead, that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. May we continue to nurture smart, decent, loving, and responsible citizens dedicated to joining that small but mighty leadership group.

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