Mr Wood shared a holiday story with me recently. It is one of those stories that is a little bit funny but also could have easily ended very badly for the person involved. He shared that whilst he was on holiday in beautiful Port Stephens he noticed a group of fisherman gathering on the shore edge preparing to throw in their nets. A fish ball had developed and they were looking to make the most of the opportunity that had presented itself. Some dolphins too had noticed this fish ball and were observed by the fishermen and a lady who decided to use her canoe to get a close up look at the dolphins. However, as she was calmly paddling out to get up close with the dolphins the fishermen closer to the shore began beeping their horns to get her attention. Mr Wood could hear from their conversation that they wanted to let her know that one of the dolphins was not actually a dolphin, it was a shark. Fortunately, she realised what the fishermen were trying to communicate and was not harmed. But it is a great illustration to communicate that things are not always as they seem.
Sometimes, something you least expect becomes a reality. Jesus said some incredible words in John 4:27: “Don’t judge by appearances. Judge by what is right”. Another translation says, “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly”. One of our big issues today is the persistent tendency to judge according to appearance. We judge a person according to his looks. We judge a used car by its body. We judge a book by its cover. No matter how often we are disappointed and disillusioned, we stubbornly refuse to learn that all that glitters is not gold, that is, not everything is always as it seems.
Sadly, we also often fall into this trap when it comes to cultural norms and expectations. We can so easily find ourselves siding with popular opinion before taking the time to forensically examine the argument to get below the surface and see if it stands up against truth. This is a really dangerous habit to form, especially for our young people. Not everything that culture serves up to them will lead to a flourishing life. Just because it looks like a dolphin and swims like a dolphin, doesn't mean it is a dolphin. Whilst on the surface an idea or proposition may seem enticing, or a solution to a difficulty, ultimately, it may be a path to pain. Proverbs, the book of wisdom, reinforces this saying, "there is a way that appears right to a man but in the end it leads to death" (Proverbs 14:12).
By building young people's capacity to forensically examine thoughts, feelings, ideas, cultural propositions and expectations we build a firm foundation for a flourishing life. Helping students to understand and authentically live out their God-given identity is key to this task. When social media communicates to our young people that their physicality is the most important thing about them, we want our young people to instinctively challenge that idea because they understand that they are a whole person who is worth so much more than what others think about their body. As they begin to navigate career paths and are tempted with the idea that income is a measure of their worth we want them to understand that God's plans for them are always good and true satisfaction come from living out your God-given purpose.
To be ready to challenge these messages our young people need wisdom, for wisdom is the power to discern what is good and right. Young people equipped with wisdom are able to discern what is right and true when navigating popular opinion. Proverbs says that by wisdom kings and princes rule and govern justly, therefore, when armed with wisdom our young people become powerful, positive change makers. Proverbs also says that whoever finds wisdom finds life (Proverbs 8:35). Wisdom is the beginning of a flourishing life.
For these reasons, amongst many others, the College is focusing this year on how together we can grow young people who hunger for wisdom, young people who understand that not everything that seems right is always right. We are going to focus on empowering students to critique information and ideas that come their way and to provide learning experiences that build their capacity to forensically examine cultural propositions. I am excited by the fruit that I know will be realised as we do this together.