On Wednesday in the Key Stage 2 Assembly, Miss Wilson discussed with the children what it is to be a good friend. I’ve asked many different children this same question many times over the years and you fairly consistently get similar answers which are along the lines that friends should be trustworthy, honest, and not tell lies. And I’ve never disagreed with that as an ideal. But are our friends always honest with us and should we always believe what they tell us and would we really like it if they were?

One of the benefits of time, a good long term memory and being in this sort of role is that I get to reflect on my own childhood experiences quite a lot, and as you experience some of the issues of childhood from an adult perspective you begin to see some of your own experiences in a different light. Thus I was recently reminded of my own disappointment as a child when, whilst at my Junior School, I wasn’t selected to represent the school at the annual county Sports Day. Both my brother and sister had represented the school when they had been in Year 6 so I had the family honour to uphold. And I believed I was the best in the school at throwing the cricket ball, or at the very least the second best and since the team needed two cricket ball throwers I was certain I was going to be chosen. How did I know I was at least the second best – because all my friends said so. “You’re bound to get in the team,” they said. “You’re much better than…..” “You can throw miles further than anyone.” These were all nice things to hear and I really believed them. The problem was, of course, they weren’t true. There were at least two or three other pupils who could throw further than me. At the time I just assumed it was because the teachers had got it wrong; they had measured the distance of my throws wrong or got them muddled up with someone else’s. I felt cheated and made my feelings known to everyone. All my friends agreed – it wasn’t fair, it was a mistake, I should be going with the rest of the team. I think even my parents got involved – something I look back on now with some shame; did I really behave so badly?

So why did I believe so strongly that I was the best – because my friends told me I was and I believed them. But of course our friends often tell us what we want to hear rather than what we need to hear. And they do this, because they are our friends, and sometimes the truth can hurt and we don’t want to hurt or upset our friends. My friends told me I was the best at throwing not because they had measured the distance of my throws and compared them to anyone else’s, but because that’s what I wanted to hear. Unfortunately for me, when it came to the trials for the Sports Day, the teachers did measure all our throws and mine weren’t the best. I wasn’t bad at throwing, I just wasn’t as good as the two selected for the team.

Being a good friend is hard, particularly when it comes to telling the truth.

We had a good discussion in Year 5 this morning about Donald Trump’s inauguration today as President of the United States. We talked about so-called fake news and whether this might have affected the result of the election. Of course, we will never know, and I have no personal view on this, but it does raise the question of how we interpret the news we get and if we don’t know where our news comes from, how careful we need to be in deciding whether we believe it or not. The problem is, and it’s not dissimilar to believing what our friends say, that when we hear something that chimes with our own beliefs and feelings, we have a tendency to believe it even more; it has the effect of reinforcing our position. By the same token we dismiss what doesn’t accord with our own views as being wrong or fake. That’s where the credibility of the news source becomes so important and perhaps being prepared to seek out other reliable sources to confirm or challenge what we are hearing. One of my favourite programmes on Radio 4 is More or Less, a programme that challenges the poor use of statistics in the news and media. If you haven’t listened to it, do – it restores your faith in humanity and brings a little sanity back to the often over-hysterical headlines thrown around by the media based on the misrepresentation or over extrapolation of research statistics. Have a great weekend.

Matthew Lovett