Sunday, October 1, 2017

Out of the Race

When at the age of 14 years I entered Fourth Form at St. Andrew's College I soon awoke to what was to an extremely competitive society.  The over-riding vernacular of contest for me was the academic but on almost every other level in the school heat was undeniable - sports, cadets, pipe band, debating and a repeat of all of them on the intercollegiate scene particularly with what was called the "Little Big Four" - namely, St. Andrew's College, Upper Canada College, Bishop Ridley College and Trinity College School.  The fierceness of rivalry even insinuated the intramural clan allocations (Bruce, Douglas, Wallace, Montrose) and the boarding houses (Memorial, Flavelle, Macdonald, Sifton).

St. Andrew's College, also known as SAC, is an independent school founded in 1899 located in Aurora, Ontario, Canada. It is a university-preparatory school for boys in grades 5 to 12, with a focus on academic achievement, athletics, and leadership development.
The School's mission statement is Dedicating ourselves to the development of the complete man, the well-rounded citizen. Sports are a compulsory activity and considered an essential part of school life and culture; 62 teams across 22 sports are offered by the School.
The students have a broad selection of courses to choose from, including Advanced Placement (AP) classes to better prepare them for post-secondary studies. As well, many AP examinations are offered at this testing location. Example of AP courses offered are chemistry, English, calculus, statistics, economics and computer science. SAC has a 100% university acceptance rate and graduates move on to post-secondary education around the world, including Canadian, American and British universities.
St. Andrew's alumni include:
  • Stephen Amell - Canadian actor
  • Timothy Findley, OC - author
  • Lawren Harris, CC - Group of Seven Painter
  • Kiefer Sutherland - Canadian actor
  • John A. McDougald - Businessman, Argus Corporation
  • Rob McEwen, CC - Prolific entrepreneur
  • Graham Towers, CC - Former Governor of the Bank of Canada
  • Harry B. Housser - Former Toronto Stock Exchange President, featured on Time magazine's front cover on April 5, 1937.
  • Jack McClelland, OC - Publisher
  • Major Allan Best - Deputy Commanding Officer, 48th Highlanders of Canada.
  • John Crosbie PC, OC, QC - Retired politician, and the 12th Lieutenant-Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador (2008–present).
  • Vincent Massey, PC, CH, CC, philanthropist and 18th Governor General of Canada (first Canadian born; 1952–59).
  • Roy McMurtry - Politician and Chief Justice of Ontario (1996–2007).
  • Frank Moores - Former Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador (1971–1979).
  • Edward Roberts - The 11th Lieutenant-Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador (2002–2008)
  • Greg Hotham - hockey player for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs.
  • Brad Smith - football player, played for the Edmonton Eskimos and the Montreal Alouettes.
  • Gord MacFarlane - retired minor-league hockey player
  • Thaine Carter - Linebacker, formerly practiced with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
  • Karl McCartney - football player, currently playing for the Calgary Stampeders

For those who attended St. Andrew's College the application of the strictures and expectations was in my opinion universal and uniform.  Though obviously not every boy succeeded to the level of attainment met by some I believe there was wherever possible recognition of each boy's effort. There were of course opportunities for expression in more esoteric fora such as the student yearbook, photography or dramatics. The motivation to compete and perform was nurtured by a relentless system of rewards, everything from constant testing and scoring in the classroom, awards of ties and sweatercoats on the athletics field, trophies, crests and clan badges.  The conditioning began from the moment a "New Boy" entered the school when he became by mere effluxion of time entitled to wear a striped red and white "School Tie" instead of the intentionally insipid military blue "New Boy's Tie".  By gradations the bestowal of advantages and benefits continued throughout every aspect of school life but increasingly based upon performance and quality, culminating for some in appointment as a team captain, House Captain, Prefect, Officer of the Cadet Corps or Pipes and Drums.  The swell of boys remained in the legions of blazered students or tuniced cadets responding to commands from their seniors or superiors. If you were among the privileged successes or cavorted with them by virtue of your social talents then the experience was perhaps less pitiless than it might well have been for others.

Significantly when I graduated from St. Andrew's College (having enjoyed the memorialization of my name in several places on the Library walls) my interest in academic excellence vanished. I imagine that I understood that my successes were due strictly to workhorse effort and that, having proved the possibility of achievement through application, I was no longer motivated to be first.  This apparent contentment to undertake a course of study without having to garner awards and prizes persisted through law school where for example my only feature of excellence was an accidental achievement in constitutional law which I appreciated instinctively. As a result when I applied to law firms for articles I wasn't touting my academic credentials.  If anything I relied upon family and personal connections which to be honest were not without value.

When however I became disenchanted with work at my first law firm I quickly learned to hone the specifications of my limited experience (which pointedly included appearance in the Federal Court of Justice and the Supreme Court of Canada). Intent upon accomplishing my goal of shifting from an urban to a rural practice I did not hesitate to align my capabilities and reforge my peculiar talent for detailed work. Essentially I took whatever capital I had and moulded it to suit the need. The calculation proved to work. I developed a reputation for thoroughness which once again was the product of nothing more dignified than hard work. What additionally transpired was the evolution of an undeniable connection between my capabilities and my compensation - I had discovered the reward of money.  Knowing as I always have that my so-called success was just putting one foot in front of the other and doing my homework, I never allowed myself to be deceived that anything other than assiduity was the secret. It was nothing for me to labour until three o'clock in the morning then start again at seven.  I worked Saturday mornings for the longest time (mostly a concession to what I had heard was historically the preference of local farmers, though I ignored what was the balancing custom of taking off Wednesday afternoons). For almost forty years I practiced with my nose to the grindstone.  Inherent in my performance was the desire not to be first of anything but to be right, not at the expense of anyone or anything but as evidence of fulfillment of the exactness of the task at hand.  As a result my application became notoriously academic, paradoxically a return to my original roots of ambition where precision was paramount.  The demonstration of this preoccupation was not in the court room (though there were a few occasions when that transpired as well) but mostly in the interpretation of the daily fodder of a residential and commercial real estate practice combined with some narrow estate planning devices to ensure the perpetuation of wealth from one generation to another.  Clearly these areas of practice of necessity generally involved people of means and I learned to tailor my absorption to my remuneration.

All this is to say that from the time I was 14 years of age until I was 65 years of age when I retired everything I knew about life surrounded the choice or not to get into the fray; that the tangible results of my efforts were measurably connected to what I chose or not to do and the amount of work I was prepared to invest.  While this may sound less than astonishing - and I admit that it is - the corollary of diligent application is the unwitting cultivation of results or what some characterize as success or achievement. This of course is hardly unfortunate except where its persistence contaminates any experience other than that of primacy. If one exists in a world of particularity and perfection it is inevitable that those qualities will taint all else.  Where the result of such infiltration is not directly upon one's own undertakings but also on anyone else's then there is the risk of discolouring and diminishing what is other than one's own business. There is clearly a place for judicious assessment of what others do.  But it can become an involuntary and useless source of anxiety if the arcane indicia of one's own conduct ends being the test of all others.  For one thing the utility of connecting performance with experience is evidently surpassed by mere friendship and acquaintance. There is seldom a commercial imperative at play in those relationships. This doesn't mean that it is easy to abandon the criteria upon which one has learned to found one's own conduct. But eventually life for itself is sufficient without the advantage of either achievement or reward. This entails removing oneself from any comparative eclipse, getting out of the race to be right or first or proving anything whatever.  Sometimes it's just good to sit back and watch the river roll by.

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