The Practice of Unconditional Positive Regard

By Mr Scott Corbett, Acting Assistant Principal Students

The theme of this year’s Dirrum Dirrum Festival was ‘sonder’. Sonder is described by the poster hanging in my office as “the realisation that each passer-by is living a life as complex and as vivid as your own.”

If you were lucky enough to attend Dirrum Dirrum Festival, you would have heard the many ways in which the feeling of sonder has impacted people in our community and the profound nature such a feeling can have on our capacity to practise compassion. To me, the feeling of sonder speaks to a core tenant of well-being care: unconditional positive regard. It is the concept that in all interactions with another person, we should remember the wholeness of that person and, despite the choices they make, we should hold in our mind the fact that they are a valuable and worthy human being, just like ourselves. For me, unconditional positive regard is an active choice that allows us to separate behaviour from people. I believe that this practice is an essential assumption for the growth and promotion of a compassionate community.

Audience members listening to speakers at Dirrum Dirrum Festival 2023.

With more than 2100 students and hundreds of staff on campus each day, our school is a dynamic, fast-paced and very large community. We often talk to the students about their responsibility in shaping the culture of their year group, with the choices they make being the most influential factor. The same, I would argue, is true for the wider school community and the choices we make as adults. We are brought together by the same goal: empowering our young people to have the best opportunity to thrive in their life beyond Radford’s walls. With this united guiding light, we are a team. Within such a large team, the feeling of sonder is an important feeling to hold present in our interactions with each other. The extent of the connection between two adults on this team may just be a Nexus post, a short email, or a quick phone call, but we are each much more than those interactions. We have complex lives full of successes, stresses and ambitions that influence how we behave. I strongly believe that the most successful communities are ones that hold this consideration in the back of all interactions and ones that seek to practise empathy as a beginning point.

To invest in the well-being of our community and foster a culture of respect and honesty, I encourage you to hold the practice of unconditional positive regard in the back of your mind when you next interact with other members of our College community. At times, members of a team disagree, even strongly advocate for quite different results, but we can do this with kindness and respect. My time working in the well-being space of schools has taught me that the truth - more often than not - lies somewhere in the middle of two (or more) different perspectives. Allowing time to listen, remembering we are all on the same team and speaking from a point of sonder can allow us to develop a College community that truly does live out our value of compassion.