Nobody Has a Monopoly on Suffering by Ben Snyder, Head of Upper School
On the first day of my "America and Genocide" elective, I write on the board “Nobody has a monopoly on suffering,” and ask my students what they think I mean by that. It usually takes awhile—and takes some prompting to tease out—but the point of the statement is that, tragically, many groups have been the victims of genocide, and it is pointless to try to debate which targeted group has suffered "the most."
I often think about this statement when I’m asked about the breadth of Nobles service programs. “Why,” someone will ask , “do we have Nobles kids travel halfway around the world when we have significant problems right in our own back yards, here in Boston?” This is a reasonable question that merits a thoughtful response.
One of the primary tenets of the Nobles mission statement is that we aim to develop leaders for the public good whose lives are characterized by service to others. What we don’t do in that mission is define "public good" or specify the particulars of a life of service to others. We don’t go to that level of detail because we recognize that there are infinite ways in which such leadership and lives of service can be manifested.
As a result, we develop service programs that provide a broad array of options aimed at helping students find a place of service that works for them and is not prescribed by Nobles. Our students make a positive impact in countless arenas very close to home. From pie and turkey drives to tutoring to working with the elderly or youth programs, Nobles students annually put thousands of hours into meaningful service in Greater Boston. Few schools in the country ask as much of their students as we do of ours, and few have the breadth of impact that Nobles has in its own neighborhood.
In addition, we know that in an increasingly interconnected world, Nobles students need a broader set of experiences that introduce them to people, places, problems and ideas that will open up their views of themselves and the world. To help our students become responsible, empathic, and skilled global citizens, we offer a variety of challenging domestic and international travel opportunities—many of which revolve around service. Our goal is to create and sustain long-term partnerships with organizations around the world where students and faculty share experiences that allow them to develop the conviction that individuals can make a difference in the world.
In graduate school, the most important book I read was Getting to Yes, written by authors at the Harvard Negotiation Project. There I was introduced to the concept of "both/and" vs. "either/or" thinking. The basic premise of this negotiating construct is that parties need to search for common ground and understanding to work towards solutions that satisfy all parties. Our conviction that Nobles should provide service-learning opportunities both in Greater Boston and around the country and the world is consistent with our mission and our belief that, no matter what path in life a Nobles graduate might choose, she or he can make a positive impact on the lives of others. Sadly, there is plenty of suffering nearby and far away and no one has a monopoly on it. Hopefully, Nobles will help students find their path to making a difference be it around the corner or around the world.