Nov. 12, 2020

John Hendry — On Why Relationships Matter

John Hendry — On Why Relationships Matter

Ezra reconnects with his ex-house master from school, John Hendry. In this episode, John discusses how the loss of a loved one can alter one's perspective on relationships. Committing his life as an educator for more than 50 years, John reflects on a defining moment that altered the direction of his future. We hear more about what does it mean to be kind; and that much like our ability to be proficient at anything else, kindness too requires practice.

Bio

John Hendry has committed his life to education. For over 50 years, he has worked at all levels of school and higher education including Geelong Grammar School, where he spent 36 years of his career. His passion for education is coupled with his belief on the importance of relationships. As the lead consultant at Parents Victoria, John is working on a relationship-based education, of which you can read more about it here.

If you want to know more about John, feel free to read here.

Episode Structure

  • 0:00 - Introductions 
  • 0:58 - What defines a 20-year-old relationship? 
  • 3:35 - How do you move forward from a family tragedy 
  • 7:13 - What happens when you're given the chance to try 
  • 12:28 - A galaxy of relationships 
  • 18:45 - Thank you's 
  • 20:32 - What's John up to now? 
  • 21:41 - Credits 

Book Recommendations

  1. Morality by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
  2. Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell (and I would second that recommendation too).
  3. The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: How Risk Taking Transforms Us, Body and Mind

 

Contact

John can be reached at the following email: takethesingle@gmail.com

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Transcript

Note: The Ezra Zaid Project is proudly produced by a crack team of audiophiles and the best way to enjoy it is to listen to it. This allows for greater nuance and emphasis that sometimes may not translate as well to the written transcripts that are available to download for each episode. It would be best to cross check the corresponding audio, before quoting us in print.

 

Hey there. I’m Ezra Zaid. 

 

(music intro)


On the Ezra Zaid Project, we present stories, moments and anecdotes of individuals navigating the prospect of discovery and adversity. 

 

On today’s programme, John Hendry. 

 

EZRA

Hendo, you can hear me okay?


JOHN

Yes I can, well I can hear you ‘cause I don’t have my earphones on. And I don’t need them on for the computer?

 

That’s John and me. We’re testing the levels, I’m hoping to impress him a little, that maybe he’ll notice how far I’ve come after all these years. He’s been more to me than just--  a teacher. I call him Hendo, for what counts as his surname, Hendry — John Hendry.

EZRA

Alright, I think we’re good.

 

JOHN

We’re good. Excellent (laughs)

 

For a couple of years, we shared the same roof. Back in 1999, John was the housemaster of this boarding house at Geelong Grammar school. And in that same boarding house, there’s me. A nervy teenager, in a foreign land. And at the time, I didn’t have the grades nor the guile to figure out the pitfalls of teenage life.

 

EZRA

 My recollection of the first time I met you was probably 1998 when you still had the role…

JOHN

Of careers’ master.

EZRA

Of career’s master and I think what you were trying to encourage everyone was, I think it was supposed to be the office with the answers of what would happen to your life as a young teenager and asking “How do I sort my life out?”. And what was your perspective of those moments as each person comes into that room and how did you feel about that process?


JOHN

It was very challenging because in fact, I didn’t know the individual. I needed to know them in order to help them through what becomes a real mire of challenges if you like. It was difficult. And then what are their aspirations; what are they thinking at the moment? And I would ask, “Just project 5 years ahead, Ezra. Where do you think you’ll be? What would you like to be doing? What would be a dream? Just give me an idea. Because the world’s your oyster, like it is. You can do anything.” And I believe that people can do anything. So, it was a matter of encouraging people to think outside the square, in reference to their own imagination if you like. It was fascinating and I did it, for a long long time across a whole range of students and families and so forth, and it was a challenge to make certain they didn’t limit themselves.

EZRA

It’s one of those things when you ask a young kid, “What do you wanna be when you grow up?” And you say these things because you’ve heard other people say it. It’s a mexican wave effect.


JOHN

That’s right. Or it’s tied into family or whatever. What I really
wanted was every child to be a magellan.


EZRA

In what way?

JOHN

Well, to be out there and explore. Just be brave. Go out there and think, “That’d be interesting.” And to follow an interest in a genuine way rather than just a “oh, that sounds okay.” But to be really genuine about what they were. And knowing that all roads will always be worthwhile. 

 

John believes that relationships matter; and that fundamentally, we learn through relationships. It’s a lesson he learnt growing up in the small town of Echuca, along with his parents and two brothers. 

 

JOHN

I have a twin brother.


EZRA

You do? I didn’t know this about you.


JOHN

Yes and we are closer now than we’ve (ever) been for 50 years because our lives (were) lived quite separately and differently.

EZRA

And his name is?

 

JOHN

Russell. He was an engineer and has retired. Retired a number of years ago. 20 years ago; not quite 20 years ago. And did very well in life and lives a terrific life. But our lives were totally different. And we did live separate lives, we interface now and then but not often. And we were not identical. So when we were 13, I was 7 inches taller than him and 2 and a half stone heavier. So I was… he was a little kid. And he … we struggled with that disparity as siblings. And so when we had a younger brother who was unfortunately killed and so that impacted on our lives substantially. It kept me in the town for another year because I couldn’t leave because my parents would’ve had 3 sons and then none.

 

EZRA

How were you navigating that tragedy at the time in relation to yourself or in relation to not wanting to leave your parents in that situation?

JOHN

Yeah. It was difficult in all sorts of ways. Difficult in dealing with it. It’s a small country town. The accident was that he was hit by a drunk and killed, and the subsequent events that followed that. The son of the fellow who was driving the car was in my class. These are very intimate things. The driver of the car was a really nice, wonderful fellow. He just had too much to drink. So, these were pivotal understandings in my life. And remain so. My father was genuinely able to forgive him.

EZRA

And your mum?

JOHN

As far as the man was concerned, I think she was able to but she could not forgive herself for not actually doing what a mother should’ve done, (which) was to pick him up rather than letting him ride his bike home. And so it was incredibly difficult for a couple of years when these things are really raw. And I considered that I had to stay at home. So I did. And that was an important process in my life. And it’s interesting in that the accident happened on my 17th birthday. So Russell and myself… and so every birthday the video is played and this is a constant reminder of the importance of relationships in life.

 

John began his teaching career at the age of 22. And for more than 50 years, he’s been involved at all levels across primary and secondary schools in Australia. But for John, it nearly didn’t pan out that way.

 

JOHN

Well, 5 and 6 I was stammering very badly, and stammered right through until probably I was 26, 27. And all the time thinking, “How can I better manage communication?” And you know they made the film about the King of England, ‘The King’s Speech’, which was a similar thing. It was compacted very quickly. But how do you overcome the embarrassment of actually making errors in speech? And watching other people when to see when you do stammer, what is their reaction to that?

 

If you haven’t seen the King’s Speech, it’s a film that revolves around the true story of King George the sixth. No spoilers here, but it takes this intimate look at the relationship of a speech therapist who helps the King overcome his stammer. 

 

JOHN

And if you go to the King’s Speech, he also asked him to actually sing because it enables you on an attune basis to actually run words together. Well, I stammered badly as an adolescent, young adult. And I had to pass an elocution test at Melbourne University in order to become a teacher. And I had done all the pre-teacher training service stuff and passed it all and so forth, but in order to get a license to teach, I had to pass this test and I couldn’t. There was no way I could read what we had to do. We were in this big auditorium. There were about 600 people who were just finishing their education degrees. And we were just asked, sitting in rows and we moved forward to come up on to a stage, to a lectern, where there was an unseen piece of prose you had to read. Three adjudicators and if you read it correctly, then they passed you. And if you didn’t, then you didn’t pass. And so the closer I got, the more nervous I was becoming.

EZRA

For sure…

JOHN

And not only was I becoming nervous, but all my friends were, “John, you won’t be able to do this. What’s going on? (sic) and so on.” Anyway, I got there, I walked to the lectern and everyone... there was a white noise. 

 

And I stepped up, looked at the prose and I sang it on plain song, which is just on one note. And within a moment the white noise disappeared. And everyone started to cheer because they thought I was taking the mickey out of the organization. They thought I was having a shot at the whole process. And of course I was not. 

 

EZRA

You were just trying to get across the line. 

 

JOHN

I was just trying to get across the line. And I turned around to get acknowledgement from the three adjudicators and they said, “Mr Hendry. Room 224 at one o’clock.”  So, I appeared at room 224 at one o’clock, went in, opened the door, went it, sat down. And I was berated for being a smart alec. And I said, “I’m sorry. I stammer.” And they were embarrassed. And I explained why I did that. The gentleman of the three: there were two women as the adjudicators, he said, “How could you teach?” And I said, “Give me a chance.” So they sent me to a very small country high school and my first lesson, there were 7 students in my class. I wrote my name on the board. In those days it had to be ‘Mr. Hendry,’ and under it I wrote, ‘I stammer. Please be kind.’ And in 50 years of teaching, not one student was unkind. But the interesting thing, and I go back to why didn’t students actually take advantage of the stammer. Hmm, people were kind because I was kind and we reflect what’s thrown at us.

 

(music break)

 

JOHN

We live in a galaxy, as you said a long time ago in this conversation that I was talking to you about, a galaxy of relationships. We form many relationships, so they are of our bidding. Other people form relationships with us, that is of their bidding. And then we have relationships through just sheer vicinity. This morning at breakfast, I was served by someone: that’s a relationship. So do I dismiss the person or do I acknowledge them? And so how we do this defines who we are, not how good I am at an interview, or how good I am. We are defined by the relational contributions we make in life, how we behave in relationships. You know, when you’re going through university, (when) you’re running out onto a sporting field, you’re going into a boardroom or whatever: the quality of your contribution will only be registered if your behaviour is understood as being constructive. I believe we need relational intelligence, so, an RI. I’ve come up with a relational index… so instead of an IQ, we have an RQ. So what is your capacity to form a relationship? And I want people to actually understand that they have a real capacity to form a relationship; some people are better at it than others. So, we need to teach about relationships, how they can... and then we don’t have people who isolate themselves…

 

EZRA

And you feel that it can be developed, and it’s not something either you have or you don’t have?

 

JOHN

No, it can be developed. It can be developed. And how do we know that? Because of neuroplasticity. We can learn. And so, if you want to be really good at relationships, you have to practice. If you want to be good at forgiveness, you have to practice. If you want to be good at tennis, you’ve got to practice. If you want to improve your backhand, practice it and so these are really important things. You want to run an institution where people are gathered quickly and feel part of a team, then you have to develop a culture that is welcoming, that is forgiving, that is all the types of this kind and so this is a resilient culture. A resilient culture is a kind culture: it allows people to actually be themselves, not be what they think they should be. 

 

EZRA

A lot of what you’re discussing when it comes to relationships, that applies even to the romantic type. 

 

JOHN

Oh absolutely. 

 

EZRA

And are there nuances that are different to that, as people try and figure out the trenches of love and relationships, or is it absolutely similar?

 

JOHN

Well, yes it is. But, there are moments in an emotional relationship where people become completely infatuated. So they lose perspective, and they behave in ways that are over the top. And if there is no synergy between one and another, then that’s harmful. So in essence, relationships are on the basis of continual nurturing. So we need to teach people how to form relationships, then how to nurture a relationship, how to deal with the mistakes that are made, how to deal with the changing nature of a relationship and how to, if you like, conclude a relationship. And we have to do that, and we don’t. 

 

EZRA

And anyone who’s been in a relationship worth their salt, knows that, there are so many peaks and troughs in each person individually and then to navigate those changes collectively… it is hard and people don’t really know quite how to navigate that. 

 

JOHN

That’s exactly right. So we need to spend time talking about it. You know, we have marriage counselors, we have all these counselors… but we need to spend time individually. And this is the battle going back to what we talked about previously: do I put myself first, or the other person, or the relationship? Now, it’s the relationship you should be putting (first), because if you put the other person first at your expense then you will not be able to make the quality contribution you could make. And if you put yourself first, you’re not making a quality contribution you should make, but if you put the relationship first then you both (are) working together rather than apart. And so it’s like teamwork. So you have many relationships and do you form a relationship seeking benefit? As soon as the benefit evaporates, the relationship is over. 

 

EZRA

It creates resentment. 

 

JOHN

It does. So you’re not seeking benefit, but giving benefit. And at any time you can give benefit, any time. 

 

EZRA

I guess continuing on this path that you’ve been on for so long, and what are you excited about? Why are you getting up every morning and what are you looking forward to?

 

JOHN

Right, I’m working with schools because I think the way we need to change society and the way we need to get society to be more resilient and so forth; I’m working with schools in getting them to focus directly on relationships and the quality of relationships. So we’re looking at developing with each student, and within the institution, a relational based education system. Primarily, (if) you want to teach someone, you need to make certain that you’ve got a good relationship. And if we can do that, then we’ll change the relationship possibilities as we were able to change them — we were able to change them, you and I and others in the house — for an ongoing sense for the lives of every boy who went through the house while we were there. Everyone has looked at it, in one way or another... it will have either directly changed them or indirectly changed the way they perceived themselves in the concepts of what they can contribute to life. 

 

EZRA

Well, Hendo, I think you know, I’ve thanked you many many times, but I’ll continue to thank you right now for making such a huge impact on my life but also... it gave value and meaning that I am continually on discovery mode, which is a really nice thing. 

 

JOHN

That’s what life is about, Ezra. 

 

EZRA

Yeah, and if I have a chance of doing this onto others in my haphazard way… 

 

JOHN

You are, in the people that I’ve met today, and this is the legacy that you will leave. And it is paying it forward. This is why I’ve gone to schools. It’s important. 

 

EZRA

It’s important to get it that early on as well, isn’t it?

 

JOHN

And you can change the culture. Culture is unbelievably important. I was in China trying to explain how important culture is. And I came to the idea of a fish tank: so if the water is polluted, nothing thrives. Clear the water, right? Look after the water, oxygenate it. Do all the things you have to do. Do it properly, keep the water clear. And everyone has the possibility of thriving. All of these things are culturally important and so, they add to relationships. But Ezra, I’ve been fortunate in life. I’ve had wonderful young people that I’ve been working with and.... I’m just a fortunate man. 



That was John Hendry. He now lives in Melbourne, Australia. Before travel was restricted, he spent time on the speaking circuit at industry, education and sport conferences all over Asia-Pacific, Europe and Canada. as well as consulting UNESCO on issues related to bullying and school violence.

 

And If you’re interested in learning more about what John describes as the 5 elements of what makes a quality relationship, I’ve produced a short bonus episode that you can check out as well.

 

I reached out to him before wrapping up this episode and asked him what books were on his bedside table right now. It includes:

 

  • Morality by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
  • Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell (and I would second that recommendation too). 
  • The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: How Risk Taking Transforms Us, Body and Mind

 

He can be reached at takethesingle@gmail.com — For more of John’s book recommendations, or if you just want to find out more details about this interview including resources, transcripts and recommendations, visit ezrazaid.com

 

(break)

 

The Ezra Zaid Project is made by me, Ezra Zaid. I host, produce and edit the show. 

 

I had help on this episode from:

  • Rahmah Pauzi
  • Chun Saw
  • Sabrina Yusof
  • Raissa Nadine
  • Kubhaer Jethwani
  • Melati Kamaruddin

 

Rakin Suflan mixed the episode.

 

Music for this episode is provided by Blue Dot Sessions. 

 

Our theme music is produced by Rakin Suflan and me. (take 1)

 

Our theme music is produced by Breakmaster Cylinder. (take 2)

 

If you’d like to follow me on social media: @ezrazaid is my handle on Twitter and Instagram. You can find me on Facebook and LinkedIn as well.