Let Your Life Speak

“One of the greatest tragedies in life,” says KL Toth, “is to lose your own sense of self and accept the version of you that is expected by everyone else.”

For some time, that must have been what Kweku Adoboli felt.

For Kweku, losing his own sense of self meant sacrificing all that he held dear: it meant losing his idealism and hope; it meant losing his desire to make communities and be part of a family; it meant losing his self-belief that he could make a difference to others. To accept the version of himself expected by everyone else meant that Kweku had to accept being a social pariah; it meant being a symbol of an out of control and out of touch corporate greed; it meant being a label first and a person second – not Kweku Adoboli, but “that banker”, “rogue trader”, “Britain’s biggest conman”.

How do you retain your sense of self when everything that you are, everything that you have worked for, has fallen away? In that gulf, in that absence, what is left? How can you speak for yourself when there is a clamour speaking for you that insistently drowns you out?

What is left is more than we could have expected. Moral conviction, for one; the renewed realisation of the need for global citizenship, for another. An unexpected third was an understanding of the influence of school: its lasting impact on your identity; its importance in providing stability and love, no matter how long it has been since you have left; its proxy as family. Finally, most importantly, what is left is a gentleness: Kweku has, in the fullness of time, come to find peace with himself.

Kweku came to talk about this with us. And in talking to us so frankly and so honestly, Kweku made a lot of people cry.

Some, overcome at hearing the story of his journey over the last five years, cried tears of sadness. Some, angry at the injustice of the institutions and the courts, cried tears of frustration. In refurbishing their memory of the little boy he was, updating that image to accommodate the broad and sharply-cut lines of the man he has now become, some cried tears of delight. Some shared tears, crying tears of empathy, crying because Kweku himself cried. When Kweku came back to school, he cried a lot. He greeted old teachers long-retired and newly-returned; he greeted people who cared for him when he lived in the boarding house at school; he greeted people who wrote him letters when he was put in prison, people who believed in him and loved him and wanted to let him know that, then as now.

People came back to see Kweku, not just to hear him speak but to also demonstrate their commitment to him by giving him their presence.

Kweku is a stocky, powerful man in his mid-30s, carrying a voice that is compelling and authoritative, sonorous and deep and rich. On several occasions, however, that voice gave way. Meeting these significant figures of his past yanked this man straight back to being that little boy in shorts on his first day at school, marooned in mizzly Yorkshire, entirely alone, set on his way with a hard handshake from his father. Such memories ambushed him, stalling his rhetoric, the threat of tears subsiding only with patience and control and breath. On some occasions, his tears could not be stemmed: ambushed this time by the entire sixth form, who, marshalled by the Head, surrounded him for a post-talk photo, Kweku hid his face in his hands. Framed in a sea of burgundy jumpers and smiling faces, Kweku wiped away his tears and looked up and smiled for the iphone.

When Kweku Adoboli came back to school, he was coming home.

“Remember your responsibilities as a citizen for the conduct of local, national and international affairs,” reminds Quakerism’s Advices and Queries. “Do not shrink from the time and effort your involvement may demand.”

We are grateful to Kweku for not shrinking from the time and effort his involvement with us has demanded. For an audience of sixth form students and staff members past and present, Kweku shared the journey of his last 15 years – from student to Head Boy; from directionless undergraduate to UBS intern; from scarcely-credible, astronomic corporate success to arrest, conviction, media notoriety, incarceration. He talked with us about the mistakes he felt he had made and the mistakes he felt that the institutions had made. Kweku did not come to make excuses, but he did come to give reflections and to share the lessons that he has learned.

He has learned, for example, that your greatest hope comes at the moment of your greatest despair.

He has learned how he wishes he had stood up to his superiors and demanded that they show greater support, that they take greater responsibility.

He has learned that the only important thing that you can do in life is make morally-correct choices; that in a post-truth world – where right and wrong no longer seem relevant, when public figures say one thing, do another and no one bats an eyelid – the only ground stable enough to build a future is the ground of your own moral conviction.

He has learned the importance of understanding yourself as a global citizen, a citizen of the world, a citizen reliant on and with responsibilities to others.

And he has learned once more how important his time at school was. Non sibi sed omnibus, Kweku kept repeating – ‘not for oneself but for each other’. I know what he means: I know what it feels like to grow up in a school, for home to be a boarding house, for a house master to be a father, for a school’s rules and traditions and expectations and etiquette to be the touchstone of your own moral development and journey to identity. Kweku learned how important that history was; how that history propelled him and sustained him into his present; how those words – non sibi sed omnibus – did not just shape his sense of self, but also helped him to retain that sense of who he was and what he stood for, even when everything was crumbling around him.

“Look at the people around you,” he urged. They are more than friends: “they are your brothers and sisters, your aunts and uncles.” They are from Germany and China, Syria and Hong Kong, and they are your family.

Kweku has learned the importance of this family, and urged us to be more aware of it, of its potential, of what it can do for us now and in the future – the comfort it offers, the love it provides, the strength it gives us when we are most in need of it.

When Kweku Adoboli came back to school, he was coming home. What perhaps he hadn’t expected to discover was that we were all waiting for him, and always had been. For Kweku – indeed, for all of our old students, our “Old Scholars” – thank you. And don’t stay away so long next time.

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