International travel and movies: reflections on humanity and the world

I haven’t counted up the miles I flew over the past almost 2 weeks, but I know that I have paid enough carbon tax to help plant a small forest, which is some guide. To be in London, Washington and Sydney, three of the greatest cities in the world, within the space of a few days, is one way to gain perspective on the world, and I used every moment to absorb what was special about each of those places and the people I met in them. Travelling really does broaden the mind – as long as your mind is ready to be broadened – and I have returned with three main observations on humanity as a result.

First, our planet is a remarkable place. It is smaller than sometimes we imagine or remember: if you can fly from one end of it to another within the space of a day, then it cannot be the endless pit of natural resource that we can fool ourselves into thinking, and we have to sharpen up fast in our thinking as a result (I did not fly without keen regard for the cost to the environment of my transportation, balanced against the value of my visits; nor, when – for example – I saw the container ships pouring in and out of Singapore, did I acknowledge this without some reflection on our consumerism and potential wastefulness). In flying, you cross deserts and seas, developed cities and remote villages – from 40,000 feet up, we may not see the detail, but we can be conscious of the human activity, and the natural patterns and rhythms of the world, and we can be respectful of them.

Secondly, people really are all the same. There is a deep sense of connection which binds us as human beings regardless of our culture, our history and our experiences. I have met some astonishing people over the past week or so – some, quite casually, in passing at airports and on public transport systems; others who are Heads of great schools and who share in my desire to connect girls’ schools across the oceans; some truly great teachers of all levels at my new school in Australia, giving their all to their pupils every day; and extraordinarily committed parents, former pupils and friends of education. As I write this I am preparing for a new week in my current school, and my heart fills with pride at the thought of spending time with amazing girls and staff, and – although my loyalties are of necessity and choice beginning to be split equally – probably the best team of educators anywhere in the world. People are people – with a phenomenal capacity to do good and to make a difference for themselves and for others. It is humbling to see.

Thirdly, we really are a creative race. What a lot of movies I have seen during my travels! When you are held in a confined space travelling at vast speeds across the continents, you have a perfect opportunity to indulge in watching films, and to admire the craftsmanship behind them. I watched The Iron Lady – which, as you will recall from a previous blog, I feared I might not see until it came out on DVD, and I do believe that Meryl Streep deserves an Oscar for her performance, in a film which was both evocative and challenging at times in its portrayal of Lady Thatcher’s leadership. I watched Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (twice) and was drawn in, caught, by the silences, the waiting, and Gary Oldman’s depiction of George Smiley. I watched Margin Call, about the crash on Wall Street, and The Ides of March, George Clooney’s insight into American politics – neither of which made for comfortable viewing in the messages they planted, although both were captivating. I also watched the A Team – I am not sure what this says about my movie choices, but it should of course be remembered that the team of renegades was motivated by a moral purpose …

This world is amazing; the human race is amazing; each and every child in our families and in our schools is amazing. It is up to us to ensure that they understand this and that together we make the world a better, fairer, place where each and every person can release his or her potential. It is 5am GMT as I write – a great start to what will be a great day in this great world.

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