Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Seòmar agus comataidhean

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Tuesday, April 16, 2024


Time for Reflection

Good afternoon. The first item of business is time for reflection. Our time for reflection leader today is Fr Roger Dawson, who is Superior of the Jesuits in Scotland.

Fr Roger Dawson SJ (Superior of the Jesuits in Scotland)

Thank you for inviting me to address the Scottish Parliament.

In this year’s Oxford and Cambridge boat race, the Cambridge women’s crew had a surprise win. More surprising, though, was the way that the coach had created a culture of high performance in the crew.

Most of us think that high-performance environments are ones in which there is challenge, where life is difficult and demanding and which are, therefore, usually miserable as well. However, their coach created a caring culture, in which care and respect were the guiding principles, trust and relationships were built and nurtured, and the crew were expected to look after one another, despite competition for a place in the boat.

They were to “press forward together”, rather than compete, and to ask what they could give, not what they could get. Respect included respect for their opponents. Getting things perfect was not the goal: learning was. In order that they could grow, they were encouraged to make mistakes, as long as they learned from them. The purpose was to unlock their potential and possibility, so that they could give their best performance—not for themselves but for others, and not for themselves as individuals, but for the team.

Key to all that was a sense of “psychological safety”. Right at the centre of the brain is the amygdala. That peanut-sized bunch of neurons is one of the earliest-evolved parts of the brain and is concerned with safety and defending. Its main emotions are fear and anger, and once it is fired up it is very hard to calm it down. Fear and anger leave us both on the defensive and on the attack—a state that is known as amygdala hijack. We do not make good decisions under the effects of amygdala hijack.

The Cambridge crew were kept safe, and they kept each other safe. It was not a macho environment that was about who was the biggest or the toughest. The culture of care did not produce a crew that was soft or weak under pressure, but one that was resilient, in which performance was enhanced. It was a winning boat. That built not just confidence, but courage. The crew were eager to learn from one another and they were modest, respectful and committed to supporting each other.

Is that culture of care” just for sport? Is it just for women, or rowing? I do not think so. I think that it is human, and I also think that it is Christian. It is for all of us, as we press forward together. After all, we are all in the same boat.