Tuesday, June 8, 2010

On Renewal

I am part of an upcoming summer institute that is focused on issues of community, meaning, and renewal in higher education. When I see the word "renewal," I recall the views of John W. Gardner, former HEW Secretary and founder of Common Cause, who asserted years ago that renewal must begin with self-renewal, that sense that each day brings fresh and exciting challenges coupled with the strength and joy needed to face them productively. Gardner knew a great deal about public challenges. As President of the Carnegie Corporation in the 1950s, he helped to lead one of the first educational reform movements. He was also one of the architects of LBJ’s Great Society in the 1960s, and a pioneer in the citizen advocacy movement in the early 1970s, to name only a few of his most noteworthy accomplishments.

For Gardner, self-renewal entails being personally engaged by difficult problems, experiencing first-hand the barriers that people face in getting their needs met and working with as many of these same people as possible in seeking ways to overcome those barriers. But the trick is always to keep the focus on the idea that positive change is within our grasp, especially when we work together. As individuals, this means focusing on developing ourselves and others as much as possible, building our individual and collective self-knowledge, and really meaning it when we say we give ourselves and others permission to fail. Self-renewal also means finding ways on a regular basis to show that we genuinely care for one another and really appreciate in overt ways their ongoing efforts. All of this contributes to that energizing sense of being alive to what is around us and alert to the people and ideas that can lead to transformation. Self-renewal, both individually and organizationally, is truly the key to making the most of these possibilities. To stay wide awake, to throw off sleep in quest of our best selves, this is the work of self-renewal and without it, authentic achievement, community and meaning are simply out of reach.

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