Not long ago, I heard a song that caught my ear, and subsequently read an interview, that both inspired and led me to a slightly different way of thinking. The song is called “Outnumbered” and is performed by an Irish Artist called Dermott Kennedy.

It’s not incredibly complicated, but I have never really been someone who has been attracted to songs by the lyrics – it has always been the melody that has caught my attention. But in this instance it made me think about what being outnumbered means. In my role as Principal, this has resonated with greatly me and I wanted to share these thoughts.

Dermot Kennedy - Outnumbered - YouTube

In his song, Dermott Kennedy writes:

Don't tell me this is all for nothin'
I can only tell you one thing
On the nights you feel outnumbered
I'll be out there somewhere


I see everything you can be
I see the beauty that you can't see
On the nights you feel outnumbered
I'll be out there somewhere


In the aforementioned interview after the song had been released, Dermott Kennedy wrote:

“For me, it was my effort to console somebody and to provide some level of comfort to somebody who feels overwhelmed by things… and rather than simply being in a bad patch when you know it’s going to get better, it is that feeling when you’re in a bad patch and you don’t know if things are going to work out. Everybody can relate to that on some level.”


So what does it mean to be outnumbered?

On the sports field, many will be able to relate to this idea. I only need to go back to the last game of rugby I played, over ten years ago, to remember that feeling in its more obvious sense. It was in a 10s tournament, so there was more space on the field…. less places to hide. I was the oldest in the team by 10 years. I felt out of control. I could feel my heart beating and was gasping for breath. I couldn’t get enough oxygen into my lungs. I felt dizzy.

My body was screaming at me to give up and my mind was asking what I was doing there, telling me I couldn’t cope. I felt despair at the three on one situation that was facing me. There were too many of them. I didn’t think I could do it.

I had to dig deep and find ways to overcome that situation and those feelings.

In the event of things, in the next moment I was upside-down, my shoulder was broken. And that was my game over. Those feelings, feelings of being outnumbered, came to a premature and abrupt end, and were replaced by other painful sensations. But I remember them well. The almost stifling panic.

But Dermott Kennedy wasn’t talking about being outnumbered on the sportsfield. It is in the daily rhythms of our lives that often we can feel outnumbered.

Maybe by the red dots, buzzing or notifications on our phones.

By the tasks set by teachers, line managers, Principals, Governors.

By the expectations placed on us by others. And ourselves.

By the negative thoughts in our heads that are too many in strength and number to push to one side.

Or the negative comments from people who don’t see or understand what we are going through.

The words to describe how these moments can all make us feel are the same as the ones I just used when talking about playing sport.

Panic. Despair. Give up. I can’t do it. Why am I here? There are too many of them…..

So, if we feel outnumbered, what can we do? History is littered with examples of people, or peoples, finding themselves this way… and sometimes, just sometimes, those feelings or situations can be used to create a better outcome and in the face of adversity many unlikely victories have been achieved. That can be us too, even when we feel the numbers are against us.

How can we achieve unlikely victories, in those moments?  It is not a war and in these instances our enemies are often intangible and unexplainable. But we can stay calm. Breathe. Meet the challenges head on. We can find our flow. We can talk. There is help out there, in so many forms. Both self-help and people who want to help.

And beyond that, if we still feel outnumbered, that is ok too. It is ok to not be ok. Sometimes we feel outnumbered because sometimes we just are. But it will be ok. We will be ok.

And finally, sometimes being outnumbered is a good thing. It’s the brave thing. The risky, or the right thing to do. You might feel outnumbered in your attempts to affect your world for the better. Selfless effort, doing the right thing, can start to feel beleaguering, discouraging or even pointless, especially if we are one of only a few making a stand. I think we should all rather be the last Good Samaritan standing. The one who stands up to the unnecessarily critical. The one holding on to our values - however outnumbered that might leave us.


This article was written by Tom Caston, Principal, MPW Cambridge

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