John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

How Might I/You Live Differently This Year?

January 10, 2011John N. GardnerInsights0

I write this blog post during the calendar context of the first week of the new year. This gives me lots of opportunities to listen and observe people as they report their New Year’s Resolutions. Had an acquaintance ask me the other day: “How do you want to live differently?” This was/is an important question. Have you posed that to anyone yet this year? Has anyone posed this to you? How about asking this one of our students?

This is not the same as “what is your New Year’s Resolution”? No, this is about how you would like to “live”.

In my own case, I had to really think about this.

And finally I responded that I would like to walk more and read more. The former is not because I don’t get enough exercise. I do. As a 66 year old man I run two miles most days. In addition, on weekends I do a lot of walking, which is really hiking for I do this on a mountain top in western North Carolina on which perches Betsy Barefoot’s and my home. And I would like to do even more of it. It feels so good to be out there in the beauty, almost in any kind of weather, and what a stimulus to good thinking and reflection.

And, as for reading, well, I already do a lot of that. But I would like to do more. And to do that would take doing less professional work at night and more pleasure reading.

Now if I could just ratchet those two things alone up, even moderately, I would be living differently. Quality of life is a matter of how we use our time, the choices we make. And improvement comes, usually, by degree(s) (=pun).

Now how can we apply this question to our students? This is not just a beginning of the year question. This should be an everyday question. An everyday opportunity to revisit our purposes and how we are living, or not living congruently.

I know how I want to live, and largely it is how I am living, although I would be pleased with myself if I could learn a few things that I am not already good at. Apply that to your students too.

And I am very clear how I don’t want to live. The Transcendental essayist, Henry David Thoreau, said it best: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation”. I believe that, particularly in our country now as the gross inequalities of our society grow larger seemingly by the day. I don’t want to live feeling that way and am thankful I don’t. Again, what about our students?

-John Gardner

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