Monday, March 20, 2006

'Happy Birthday' in Four Languages

My Spring Break activity was joining with friend and longtime colleague, Dennis Meadows, to teach a one-week workshop on ‘Systems Thinking’ and System Dynamics (computer simulation) Modeling. Dennis is an old hand at workshop teaching, but mostly the one or two day variety. The format was relatively new to me, though I also had short trainings when I worked with The Hunger Project.

Workshop participants were 9 members of ‘Think Tank Thirty’ a group of young men and women, loosely affiliated with the Club of Rome. There were also four members from The Balaton Group, a network of environmental/sustainable development practitioner/policy-makers leaders about whom I have written previously. Six other participants had sought special permission to attend. At least 10 countries were represented in our group, including Syria, Jordan, Iran, Serbia and Japan as well as Brazil, the USA and several European countries.

TT 30 members range in age from 30 to 35; this is a distinguishing feature of the group. Thus, this age cohort was roughly comparable to the ‘tenure track’ faculty with whom I work regularly at American University.

What impressed me most about these young men and women was their idealism. They viewed issues of climate change, global oil depletion, conflict and sustainable development more generally as matters about which they compelled to take personal responsibility. Systems thinking and systems modeling were tools which, they believed, would help they to exercise that responsibility more effectively. Days were long and the work was intense. It was almost like a semester crammed into a week, with rare moments of ‘spare time’ often devoted to one on one meetings with participants.

Devoting a week of one’s time to supporting the commitment of such a fine group was not a difficult decision to make. Their passion and enthusiasm pushed Dennis and me to do our best. Passionate idealism is something I encounter regularly among my Anderson Hall ‘neighbors’ at American University. The opportunity to work with a group mostly in their thirties and older whose idealism has not dimmed, after a decade or more in the ‘real world,’ is inspiring, empowering and reassuring.

Last Thursday night we all dined at a traditional Portuguese restaurant in Peniche, near the hotel where we were working. At the end of the meal, much to my surprise, a cake, complete with two candles and a sparkler, was brought forth. How they discovered that my 68th birthday was the previous Sunday night, I cannot imagine.

To be serenaded with traditional birthday songs in four different languages was one of many high points in a most rewarding, productive week


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came across your blog after reading an article on the Washington Post website. I took your Conflict and Development class in 1996 or 1997. The class had a really strong impact on me, not so much for its content, although it was really interesting. Moreso because I was only a Junior at the time and it was a graduate level class. Although I felt completely out of my league intellectually, your teaching style and encouragement really helped me to take risks and think out loud. I am really grateful for the experience because it was the first time I started thinking that maybe I could go to graduate school.

I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. at Michigan State in Education. I just wanted to say thanks for the encouragement. As an undergrad who lived the hall you are currently in, it would have been a gift to have you as a neighbor.

8:00 PM  

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