Headmaster`s Assembly Tuesday 15 November 2016 Address to

Headmaster’s Assembly
Tuesday 15 November 2016
Address to School by Rob Morse, Headmaster of Aysgarth School
Good morning, Mr Hunter, staff and boys - and thank you so very much for giving me the opportunity to visit
your wonderful school.
My wife Lottie and I travelled up from Aysgarth last night; for those you who don’t know, Aysgarth is a boys’
only preparatory school in North Yorkshire: about 160 boys of which 140 are boarders.
Whilst browsing through the Merchiston website earlier this week I was particularly pleased to read that ‘the
school’s ethos is to ensure that boys are encouraged to make the most of their talents ... and that particular
importance is attached to the development of personal character, and moral and spiritual values.
This resonates strongly with my own personal beliefs and, indeed, with how we live our lives at Aysgarth.
However, many schools make this claim of ‘family’ type relationships, and in truth, it would seem that many of
them are based on dysfunctional families! It is, therefore, all the more inspiring to visit a school such as yours
where there is a genuine feeling of camaraderie and kindness.
The thing about kindness is that it costs nothing but makes a considerable difference to our lives: not only
does an act of kindness make the beneficiary feel better; it also has an incredibly beneficial effect on the
person carrying out the act of kindness.
Indeed, studies have shown that we are considerably more likely to help others if we ourselves have benefited
from an act of kindness.
I will, if I may, tell you a short story (it is a very good story but I’m afraid I can’t vouch for its authenticity) ... My
apologies if you heard it before.
This is the tale of an ancient Chinese Emperor who so loved the game of chess that he played it from dawn till
dusk. He became so proficient at the game that he issued a challenge to the whole of the known world, to
come and play him if they thought they could beat him.
So confident was he that he offered the following terms: If anyone was skilled enough to beat him he would
give them anything they desired from his kingdom (it should be noted at this point that he had a very beautiful
and intelligent daughter who was much sought after with a view to marriage). On the other hand if the
challenger lost the game they forfeited their life.
Many brave challengers came forth over the years and, skilled though they were, none were good enough to
beat the Emperor. Fewer and fewer people were brave enough to take the challenge as they viewed the vast
numbers of unfortunate losers.
One morning, as he sat sipping tea in the dappled shade of the Palace terrace, he was surprised to see his
guards accompanying a shabbily dressed farmer towards him.
He laughed haughtily when he was informed that this lowly born peasant had come to challenge him at the
great game. The Emperor reminded him of the terms of battle and the farmer nodded in agreement.
The Battle commenced and the Emperor soon realised that he had vastly underestimated his opponent. For
many hours they pitted their wits against each other until finally the Emperor conceded defeat.
You truly are a great player Sir, the Emperor said, and I am true to my word - you may have anything,
anything that you desire: gold, diamonds slaves, land or power? What is it that you wish for?
I wish for nothing so grand your Highness replied the farmer. I ask only for some rice.
“Some rice” laughed the King, “is that really all that you wish for?”
“It is your Majesty”, said the farmer, “and what is more, I would like the amount of rice to be based upon this
chessboard that has provided us with such enjoyment today.
“What do you mean asked the Emperor?”
“Your Majesty, I wish for 1 grain of rice on the first square, 2 grains of rice on the second, 4 grains of rice on
the third and that this number be doubled for each of the 64 squares on our beloved chessboard.”
“Of course” said the Emperor “but I must admit that I think you are mad to be asking for grains of rice when
you could be asking for gold.”
So I’ll pause here and hope that you can help me work out just how much rice the farmer was to
1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128
At the end of the first row there would be 128 grains of rice on the 8 square. So the total of the first row
would be 255 grains of rice - about 1 small handful. What about the second row?
(128 at the end of the first row) 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192, 16384, 32768
At the end of the second row there would be 32,768 grains of rice on the 16 square
So the total of the 1 and 2
rows would be 65,535 grains of rice - about 1 large bag of rice (1.5Kg)
Let us carry on …
65536, 131072, 262144, 524288, 1048576 … Let’s pause there and jump up a little to halfway, or the end of
the 4 row (32 square) = over 4 billion grains of rice, or about 100,000 kg of rice. Whilst that seems like a
great deal, let me put that in perspective and tell you that in India alone, the annual rice output is well over 1
million times that amount.
Of course this is only halfway, and each square keeps doubling ... So let’s get to the good bit … 64
On the 64th square of the chessboard alone there would be 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 grains of rice, or
more than two billion times as much as on the first half of the chessboard
So adding the 64 square to all the other squares, in total we have
18, 446, 744, 073, 709, 551, 615
18 quintillion
466 quadrillion
744 trillion
73 billion
709 million
Which would be a heap of rice larger than Mount Everest or enough to cover every inch of China 3m deep in
rice - there is simply not enough rice in the world to achieve this!
The King realised his mistake in granting this apparently simple request and instead requested that the farmer
become his most high-ranking adviser and offered him his daughter’s hand in marriage.
What a very happy ending and, as I said, it is a very good folk tale but, of course as a mathematician, what I’m
most interested in the statistics.
1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 64, this sequence of growth is referred to as exponential.
Now it would be tempting here to carry on exploring the mathematical side of this but I know that I would
probably lose the attention of some of you very quickly (and Mrs Morse would be the first on the list).
So instead, I remind you of my words earlier just a few moments ago ... When I stated that kindness has a
beneficial effect on both parties.
Now let’s just think about how we might combine the two aspects of my speech?
So if I am kind to Mr Hunter, there is a very good chance that he will reciprocate this kindness. Thus, feeling
good about ourselves, it is highly likely that I will again commit an act of kindness and Mr Hunter might also be
in a much better frame of mind to be kind to some of you (quite important as I imagine he’s beginning to think
about writing your end of term reports) … That adds up to 4 people who are now involved.
And then maybe those 4 might be kind to at 4 others and they and they in turn might show kindness …
I’m sure you can see where I’m going here.
It is the little things that we can do for other people that make an enormous difference. One small act of
kindness really can have a massive effect.
And what if we challenged ourselves to do this every day? The maths would be too large to comprehend but I
know that the outcome would be simply fantastic.
There is a very good YouTube clip, entitled ‘The Kindness Boomerang’: I was going to play it for you today but
given that I have probably already over run my allotted time, I thought it might work better if I send the link to
Mr Hunter, who can share it with you if and when he feels the time is suitable (see below).
So thank you again for welcoming Lottie and I into your wonderful school. I do hope I have the opportunity to
catch up with some of you during the course of the day, but my challenge to you all is to be your best to be
kind to each other: It might not be as exciting as the Emperor’s chess challenge but the potential rewards are
greater than all of us can imagine.
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