I MUST confess that I'd never heard of Sir John Gurdon until last week, when he was awarded a Nobel Prize.
He and Professor Shinya Yamanaka from Japan share this year's prize in Physiology or Medicine for their (separate) work in the area of stem-cell research.
The thing about Sir John which fascinated me was that he was written-off as a failure at school. He was at that little Berkshire academy called Eton and in 1949 his school report read: "It has been a disastrous half. His work has been far from satisfactory ... several times he has been in trouble, because he will not listen, but will insist on doing his work in his own way. I believe he has ideas about becoming a Scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous ... it would be sheer waste of time, both on his part, and of those who have to teach him."
Far too many children and young people are put down and written off as losers – by their parents or their teachers or their peers. Winston Churchill's prep school described him, aged 8, as a "very naughty boy" who "cannot be trusted to behave himself anywhere", and his subsequent time at Harrow was hardly distinguished. Yet, quite apart from his inspirational leadership of this country during the Second World War, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953.
At 13, David Beckham was told by one his coaches that he would never play for England because he was too small and not strong enough!
Some people have the strength of character and the determination to get to the top of their chosen fields despite these early put-downs.
But many others are so demoralised that they simply give up and stop trying. They have been told they are losers, and they adopt the mentality of losers – and that's a tragedy.
At assembly at Sherborne Abbey Primary School last week, I told the children about John Gurdon, Winston Churchill and David Beckham, and we discovered together three important rules for life which I hope they will always remember.
The first is that we all have worth and value, not least because we are made and kept and loved by God; we are all precious in his sight, and each one of us is of infinite value to Him. But it is so important to affirm and encourage our children – and everyone with whom we live and work.
Encouragement costs nothing but it is priceless.
The second rule is not to listen to people who put us down. So often they are simply dumping their own sense of worthlessness and failure on us. That's their problem.
The third rule is to remain curious about life and interested in everything – God, the universe, humanity, and the meaning and purpose of things. Our horizons are simply the limit of our sight. Think big – and walk tall!