I’ve found that I have been gravitating more and more towards spending my time reading op-ed pieces, whether in the newspaper, the Chronicle of Higher Education, or online. Once I’ve read the news in one place, primarily online, it just gets repeated in others, so off I go to the op-ed sections.
A couple items that I’ve read recently made me pause and think about the message on any number of levels, from the office to my relationships with others to my family.
The first is called The Elusive Big Idea by Neal Gabler in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/opinion/sunday/the-elusive-big-idea.html?pagewanted=all). The premise of the piece, in Shaeffer’s words, is that we’re moving increasingly into the “post-idea” world, where bold ideas are almost passé. We’re moving toward post-Enlightenment rationality, where logical argument and debate are replaced by superstitions and opinion. I think we can simply look at the debates over the raising the debt ceiling to see some evidence of this.
Gabler’s op-ed suggests that we are busy “tending potted plants rather than planting forests.” This struck me on a number of levels: one is my responsibility as a leader working with my staff. I need to ask if I am creating an environment where I work with feel they can pursue the planting of forests, or whether I force them to simply tend the well-defined potted plants. In addition, this phrase challenges me to ask myself if I am still planting forests or have become so focused on bottom lines that all I see are potted plants.
The second op-ed piece written by James C. Garland, The Value of Humility in Academe, appeared in the Chronicle (http://chronicle.com/article/The-Value-of-Humility-in/128754/). The author’s premise, again in Shaeffer’s words, is to recognize that humility is an important goal in educating our students, and that it is also important for those of us in higher education to show our humility by being aware of the contributions of others. We need to have “an acute awareness of the limitations of one’s own ability.” We want to encourage and practice critical thinking as a skill, and Garland reminds us it is a skill that is “never mastered buy only improved upon.”
With this definition of humility, Garland is in many ways inviting civil discourse, or a willingness, an openness to actively engage others in a discussion of ideas. Maybe it is with humility that we can once again move toward the generation and enlightened discussion of big ideas.
I appreciate the fact that I have Shaeffer’s Forays as a platform to think through these sorts of things, and for those of you taking the time to read my ramblings: thanks. My take away: I’m going to strive to plant forests with humility.