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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

why in the world am i doing this?

I came to a teaching university in 1991 with a very naive view of what it would be like. Despite the presence of truly wonderful people, within a couple of years, I discovered that teaching was more about a mechanistic and scaled attempt to get students to reproduce information from the past. This occurred to me as a mind-numbing job made worse by a culture of isolation from colleagues rather than the learning with colleagues that I had imagined.

The interactions with the students kept me alive. I tried my best to assist them in developing to their full potential. I tried lots of things, mostly focused on perfecting the classroom experience. As I grew older, and learned more about the societal challenges we face, the activity of perfecting my performance as a "teacher" grew very empty.

Fast forward to 2002. I had just adopted a girl from China.
The trip enabled me to witness a sliver of the grievous damage that our economic marriage with China has done to their people and land. At the time, I am chair of an engineering department--allegedly an adult with a kind of position of power in the world. I began to really consider my responsibilities to future generations. What was I doing? ...teaching people the intricate details of creating integrated circuits without considering the meaning or the implications for the planet and its people!

I decided that I needed to be responsible and begin creating the world that I wanted to live in. At the university, I wanted to live in a world were there was much more genuine learning by everyone, where we were awake to our power and the responsibilities that came with it, where our actions were far more healing to ourselves, our students, our communities and our world.

It's 2003...As I look at data and global trends, I am convinced that humanity is on a collision course for extinction with leading indicators being the accelerated extinction of plant and animal species. The biggest leverage place is the China-US relationship; they are 21% of the planet's population that is emitting 50% of the world's green house gases and controlling global resources. I begin looking for the answers.  By 2008, I am now part of a team of "experts" from U.S. and China who have committed to a 20-year time horizon to innovate for sustainable development of rural China by establishing an international institute: Sino-US Strategic Alliance for Innovation (SUSTAIN).

Fast forward to 2009.  After a sabbatical stint in the center of U.S. intellect, I am devastated by the realization that no one really knows the answers. We must in fact discover this future together. After beginning our work in China, I am also struck by the fact that the U.S. part of the SUSTAIN collaboration has no legitimate voice because we are so out of sustainable balance ourselves. I begin working with Roger Burton, a dear friend, to create the possibility for us to create sustainable balance in our community.  We worked to enable the structure to collaborate across traditional university and community boundaries, to genuinely learn together and discover alternative ways to live--ways that enable all people to thrive.

At the time, I am also fragmented at many levels--like other faculty in small departments, my attention is split among nine to twelve different courses per year as well as my own attempts at professional development. My professional life is split from my family life and social life. My spiritual life is a tiny flame, along with my once burning desire to learn.

I think it was my conviction of responsibility to future generations that kept me moving forward. But along the way, as I began working with people in the community and faculty across campus who were experiencing similar things, their beautiful companionship sustained me. I began experiencing the personal and collective learning that I imagined university life would entail. So now at the end of 2010, after we have authored no less than eleven proposals, spent countless hours in design meetings, workshops and conversations, I hope to contribute as one of the faculty members in the collaboration.

Frankly, I often feel that I have little of use to contribute in the way of intellectual depth and breadth. I say this not out of a false humility, but out of the realization that within the university calculus as a whole, my alleged expertise is esoteric.

My hope, though, is that my contribution will be healing. I have a belief that my role on the planet is to heal the split between science and spirituality. For me, this false dichotomy of science and spirituality is the same thing as "masculine and feminine," "western and eastern world views," or "left and right brain functioning."  My feeling is that we are in a global state of shifting human consciousness, where our task is to integrate the "feminine." For us Westerners, this is a shift from competition to collaboration. From a paradigm of dominance to one of mutual interdependence, from fragmentation to wholeness, from the coexistence of empty wealth for few and poverty for many to meaningful abundance for all.

So in participating in this faculty collaboration, I'm hoping to essentially heal myself with the expectation that healing would encompass not just myself, but those around me and our community. Maybe there really is no difference between these things.  I don't know.

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