Saturday, October 25, 1986

KBOO 25 October 1986

‘I confess that I have not addressed such a large gathering since I spoke to 40,000 Gujerati buffalo farmers in India in 1980.’ A less flattering comparison than Harvard men expect. But after an hour and a half of heavy stuff the distinguished convocation had been subjected to they were ready for the lightness of touch with which Prince Charles delivered some important truths.

The heir to the British throne had been invited to be the keynote speaker at Harvard University’s 350th anniversary party. He was surprised that Massachusetts which wasn’t ‘too certain about the supposed benefits of royalty’ should even have invited someone like him, someone as one American paper put it ‘as appallingly undemocratic as the Prince of Wales.’ ‘Have no fear,’ he told them. ‘I am used to being regarded as an anachronism.’ Had it crossed their minds as parents, he asked, how to educate an anachronism. ‘Perhaps during this address you will find it has proved to be a fruitless task.’

Celebrities, alums and all gathered in their mortarboards and gowns to hear from the Prince who was dressed in his robes as Chancellor of the University of Wales. Prince Charles felt that his inclusion was in part because of the enduring significance of the Anglo-American relationship. Occasions like these helped re-emphasize the ties that bind the two nations. There were misconceptions from time to time on both sides of the Atlantic and there always would be. And, echoing sentiments expressed at the same spot 34 years before by Prime Minister Churchill he said, ‘We must beware lest unscrupulous people exploit these areas of misunderstanding and divert our attention from the really important task, which is our common defence of the kinds of freedom we hold so dear.’

The Prince then turned to what was evidently the thing he most wanted to express, the need for a moral and spiritual underpinning of all education so that it produced balanced, tolerant, civilized citizens. ’While we have been right to demand the kind of technical education relevant to the twentieth century,’ he said, ‘It would appear that we may have forgotten that when all is said and done, a good man, as the Greeks say, is a nobler work than a good technologist. We should never lose sight of the fact that to avert disaster we have not only to teach men to make things, but also to produce people who have complete moral control over the things they make.’

The education of the whole man needed to be based on a sure foundation and, without denying the validity of others’ traditions, this should be on the values of our own Christian, Western traditions, which are in turn the product of Hellenism and Judaism.

‘Surely it is important that in the headlong rush of mankind to conquer space, to compete with Nature, to harness the fragile environment, we do not let our children slip away into a world dominated entirely by sophisticated technology, but rather teach them that to live on this world is no easy matter without standards to live by. ‘

The natural science of psychology, he said, could perhaps lead us to a greater knowledge of ourselves; knowledge enough to teach us the dangers of the power we have acquired and the responsibilities as well as the opportunities it gives us. ‘Could we expect the institutions of higher learning to become once again keepers of knowledge which is not mere knowledge and facts, but, as the Greeks called it, "Metanoia"-knowledge that transforms.

‘Could they re-explore that religious dimension which primitive people called the great hunger; that overwhelming and inexplicable impulse which brought man out of the remote and dangerous past to where he is today through passions of the spirit? It was a hunger that was to provide a sense of meaning and the life of meaning which conducted him in the search for truth in all dimensions, both material and spiritual.

‘Thus, however well these institutions may serve an existing social order if their vision of themselves ends there they will diminish and perish. If they succeed in serving not just the immediate needs of the present but something greater than themselves yet to come the chances are they will not only renew themselves, but help to renew their ailing societies.’

The Prince’s remarks about morality drew spontaneous applause and his speech was given a standing ovation. Students who had the chance to meet him afterwards informally said that he had impressed them with his concern for vital issues. The ‘Christian Science Monitor’ headlined its report ‘Prince Charles Harks Back to Ethical Fundamentals’.

Despite constitutional constraints which limit his outspokenness the Prince has made clear his concern for the less fortunate in society, his passion for the environment and what he calls ‘the more spiritual aspect of life.’ He has used his speeches at home and abroad to put forward his ideas but he is aware that speeches can have limited effect. ’The only way I can see myself achieving anything is by example,’ he says.

Critics have suggested that because the Prince doesn’t have a job in worldly terms and in the foreseeable future will be under the shadow of his mother, he will be unfulfilled. They miss the point that he can be fulfilled in serving others. Millions are. The world needs that quality far more than it does one more ambitious executive. And the very fact that he is not in competition with others can not be a threat and yet is looked up to, is an asset, He believes, as he has said on numerous occasions, that there is a force in the human soul which is stronger than all the external force that surround us, an inner voice that can speak to Harvard man or Indian buffalo farmer, or to the prisoner isolated in the Gulag. Equally it cannot be cut off by palace walls or censored by courteous courtiers.

The Harvard audience was moved and, I believe, felt the Prince had struck an important note. His education had obviously not been a fruitless task, I say: Long live the anachronism!