What are you thinking about this week? Is it the weather? Or perhaps what's for Thanksgiving dinner or who’s going to win the NEPSAC Tournament? While these are all important things to contemplate, at Holderness over the past week, we’ve had a couple opportunities to dig deeper and think about our relationships with others—both those known and unknown to us.
Last Thursday night, in the wake of a presidential election that left national and local community emotions raw, Holderness School students came together to continue their conversations about this year’s theme of “privilege” by becoming the jury in a civil suit. Defamation,
a live courtroom drama performance in which the audience decides the trial, challenged our ideas of race, class, gender, religion, and justice.
According to the website for this courtroom drama, as the play opens, “A professional African-American woman is invited to the home of a successful Jewish man for a potential business project. After the meeting, he realizes that his family heirloom watch is gone.
“The play opens with Judge Adrian Barnes laying out the case, as well as the stakes involved. Following testimony from each side, plus a key witness, the judge tells the audience she’s not going to adjudicate the case—the audience will be the jury. She polls them once. Then the judge leads the audience in a 15-minute deliberation. She polls the audience a second time. The result decides the trial. A case without a smoking gun, Defamation challenges our preconceived notions about race, class, religion, and even the law.”
During the deliberation, students were asked to abide by the Holderness School Four Agreements (from Courageous Conversations
1. Stay engaged
2. Be comfortable with discomfort
3. Speak your truth
4. Expect and accept non-closure
As some students and faculty shared powerful personal stories, others wondered how to balance sympathy against the requirements of law. They listened and responded to each other’s thoughts, concerns, and questions. They were led to think of their own experiences and biases and the impacts those might have on their understanding.
While conversations about Defamation
continued in classrooms and around the lunch tables, as a school we had a second opportunity to think about our relationships with others when Jill Lum, who is a parent of Perry Lum ’17 and works for Fearless Dialogue
, joined us in Chapel on Monday morning.
Jill Lum opened by asking us to consider the following quote from William James: “No more fiendish punishment could be devised were such a thing physically possible, than that one should be turned loose in society and remain absolutely unnoticed by all the members thereof. If no one turned around when we entered, answered when we spoke, or minded what we did, but if every person we met ‘cut us dead,’ and acted as if we were non-existent things, a kind of rage and impotent despair would before long well up in us, from which the cruelest bodily torture would be a relief.”
She asked us to think about times in our lives when we have felt unnoticed and invisible. Together we came up with a list of what that felt like. Words like inadequate, alone, confused, unwanted, vengeful, hollow, self-conscious, and misunderstood filled a poster by the end of our discussion.
“Your words are the sermon today,” she said. “We may not be able to change the world, but we can change the three feet around us.”
Jill closed with a challenge for all of us. Holding up a measuring tape, she asked us in the next week to reach out to at least three people that we don’t know and are in some way invisible to us, to get to know them as people.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the questions that are most immediate and affect our everyday lives. But the questions that matter, that truly affect us most, are more difficult to answer. In fact, as Defamation and Jill Lum’s Chapel talk taught us, the deeper questions won't always have one right answer. The truth is more complicated than that. It is up to each of us to decide if it is still worth seeking.