This is an extract from an address I gave at a school in South London yesterday, while the country was engaged in the referendum on Europe. Not anticipating the result, I did not at the time connect the two things. With hindsight it seems a little prescient.
You may think this is a very strange thing for me to say, but my message to you is this – if you want to be remembered well, to have a good reputation when you are no longer here to speak for yourself, you will have to learn how to welcome disappointment.
Great lives, wonderful reputations are not often built on straightforward success. They are built on the way in which we cope with adversary, distress and disappointment.
The young child who is unfortunate enough know what physical pain is like – that is the person who may go on to be come a great doctor, specializing in the pain relief of the young.
The person who feels really lonely and isolated – that is the person who might go on to form some new society or community that accepts and supports other lonely people.
The person who isn’t brilliant at school but learns how to work diligently and creatively – that’s the person who will go on to be an inspiring speaker, teacher or writer.
Disappointment in life is like the grain of sand in the oyster. Of course not every grain of sand becomes the seed of a pearl; most sand is just sand, and will always be sand. And most disappointment is just disappointment, a sad turning out of events that leads on to more sadness.
But some disappointment is transformed by the person to whom it happens into something that could never have otherwise occurred.
True education, I believe, is not the education that enables us to excel when life is going well, but to cope brilliantly when life goes badly.
True education is not learning how to pass rather predictable though admittedly and sometimes cruelly difficult exams, but to come up with unpredictable, unexpected but perhaps rather simple situations to apparently impossible problems in life.
It’s easy to drive a car along a motorway. Life gets difficult when you get to a junction when the road ahead is blocked and you have to decide on a new route, or maybe a new destination. But that’s also the moment of possibility, the moment of potential brilliance, the moment at which, if we are not only educated but wise and spiritual, we will open ourselves up the guiding grace of God and make a decision not to do something dull and self-interested but exciting, creative and for the benefit of others.
Great things can happen when our plans are thwarted. That’s never pleasant or pleasing, but I believe it’s the way God very often works. And I pray that when disappointment comes in your life you will respond not by being cross with reality, but dig deep to discover the vision and determination to see what better future might unfold from the wreckage of your former dreams.
Doing well is great. Dealing well with disappointment, however, is the way to true and memorable greatness.
It is too early to say how we will do this now, but our unwanted challenge now really is to make Britain Great again.