A Path to a Spiritual Education for the Common Good: Education for a Just and Sustainable World
- Kamran Mofid
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Spiritual Heritage Education Network Inc
Fourth Annual Reflective Conference on Education to Globalize the Human Mind
Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work, Wilfrid Laurier University, Kitchener, Ontario
September 28-29, 2013
(An edited and expanded version of the Opening Address by Prof. Kamran Mofid*, 28 September 2013)
“A Path to a Spiritual Education for the Common Good:
Education for a Just and Sustainable World”
(This presentation is dedicated to the youth of the world, our children and grand children, who are the unfolding story of the next decades:
The rise of today’s youth, leading the world, with hope and wisdom in the interest of the common good, to change our troubled world for the better)
Distinguished guests, friends, ladies and gentlemen,
Before anything else, I wish to give all present in this hall a gift from my heart, in the form of a great Celtic blessing:
The Warmth of the sun to you
The Light of the moon to you
The Silver of the stars to you
The Breath of the wind to you
And the Peace of the Peace to you
And now to my presentation: “A Path to a Spiritual Education for the Common Good: Education for a Just and Sustainable World”
Let me set the scene by reading you a few inspiring quotes from some inspiring people:
"…literary institutions are founded and endowed for the common good, and not for the private advantage of those who resort to them for education. It is not that they may be enabled to pass through life in an easy or reputable manner, but that their mental powers may be cultivated and improved for the benefit of society. If it be true, that no man should live to himself, we may safely assert, that every man who has been aided by a public institution to acquire an education, and to qualify himself for usefulness, is under peculiar obligations to exert his talents for the public good."- Joseph McKeen, first president, Bowdoin College, USA, 1802
“Your life and mine should be valued not by what we take... but by what we give" -- Edgar Allen
"What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good" – Aristotle
“If we become increasingly humble about how little we know, we may become more eager to search”- John Templeton
“Try not to become a man of success, but a man of value”- Albert Einstein
“Our task is to envision a whole new place for spirituality in education”- Diana Chapman Walsh, president of Wellesley College, USA
Now, ladies and gentlemen, I am sure you will agree with me that education is the foundation for a good and fulfilling life, setting the individual on a path of personal fulfilment, economic security and societal contribution. In my opinion the key that unlocks the door to the building of a better world is EDUCATION - not any education, and surely not the education mostly on offer currently, but a truly different form of education, an education grounded in values and delivered by those who know that it is a great honour and responsibility to be a teacher, as well as knowing that teaching, above all else, is a vocation and learning is a sacrament.
In this time of spiritual confusion, when the world of knowledge and competence is in a constant state of flux, it is vitally important to demonstrate that education has to be principle-based and can do more than stumble in the dark: it needs to point students to the light of the world, by engaging them with life’s bigger questions. Questions such as:
Who am I? Where have I come from? Where am I going to? What is the purpose of this journey we call life? What is education? What is knowledge? What is learning? What is information? What is wisdom? What is a university? What is the source of true happiness and wellbeing? Should spirituality, meditation and mindfulness be cultivated in education? What is the good life? What is the purpose of economic life? Are the interests of the individuals and selective groups overwhelming the common good that the education system is meant to support? Should our cherished educational values be all up for sale to the highest bidder? Is education a personal or societal investment? Is education a right or privilege? Who should pay for education? How should higher education be paid for- through general taxation (grants) or loans? Is it right to refer to students as customers and their teachers as service providers? Should private sector management become the model for our mainly publicly-funded education system? Should the language and terminology of the for profit- only business model, such as “downsizing”, “outsourcing”, “restructuring”, “deregulating”, ”marketisation”, “privatisation”, “profit-maximisation” and “cost-minimisation”, be allowed to become the values of education, when teaching and learning is nothing short of a vocation and sacrament? What should be the role of the youth? How do we work together? How do we treat each other, especially the poorest and most vulnerable? How do we take care of not just ourselves but also one another? What distinct roles should students/civic/spiritual/political/business leaders and universities themselves take in advancing an “education for the common good”?
In this presentation and conversation, I will attempt to shed some light on these and other questions in my quest to offer you a path to a values-led education for the good of all.
I also wish you to note that, this presentation is not addressed to those who regard a practical problem merely as something to be talked about. No profound philosophy or deep erudition will be found in this address. I only aim at putting together some remarks which are inspired by what I hope is common sense, and mostly further inspired by the wisdom of those before me. I have learnt much from the wisdom of others, which I hope to share with you. All that I claim for the recipes offered to you is that they are as such confirmed by my own experience, observation, and most importantly, by my life journey, both personally and professionally. On this basis I venture to hope that some among those thinking about the same and other related issues may find my contribution useful, whilst hoping that our debate and dialogue will be helpful in initiating debate on reconstructing the common good in education and more.
Moreover, I will present my thoughts in an easy-to-follow manner and I see myself as a story-teller in a heart-to-heart dialogue and conversation with you; nothing less, nothing more. We are facing some major crises. For me, the answers lie in simplicity. No need to complicate matters more. It is time to be contemplative and take action for social justice, for which a sustainable education for the common good is an essential part.
Before I venture out more, let me share with you the philosophy, the vision and values of my educational belief. Here I am most humbly inspired by Lao Tzu, a mystic philosopher of ancient China, considered the founder of Taoism.
"Some say that my teaching is nonsense. Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves, this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.
I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself, You reconcile all beings in the world."
Before I proceed further, let me offer you some reflection on what I mean by the common good.
Put it very simply, the common good has origins in the beginnings of Christianity. An early church father, John Chrysostom (c. 347–407), once wrote: “This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good . . . for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbors.” Of course, all other religions say that we are indeed our neighbour’s keeper, and one way or other have time-honoured traditions on the common good.
From a non-religious perspective, in modern political times, the term "common good" is closely associated with the 17th-century British philosopher John Locke, who devoted his Second Treatise on government to the concept and its implications. Locke argued that when people enter a society they give up some liberties to gain protection of a larger set of liberties and rights as part of a social contract. A society knitted together by the common good guarantees rights that would not exist in a pre-social setting. Locke used this explanation to rationalise the establishment of a parliamentary government that would be responsible for assuring the public welfare. Indeed, for example, in the American Constitution itself, the notion of the common good is clearly adhered to when it notes that government should promote “the general welfare.”
Now having tried to give you a working definition of the common good, Ladies and Gentlemen, I do not wish to dwell too much on what is wrong with our education today. Most of us know very well that the sector is facing major crises. If we accept this, then, pertinent questions are: So, what is to be done? What path we may take to realise “The Education for the Common Good?”
For me, the real solution to the realisation of Education for the Common Good lies in creating a harmonious civilisation in which all of us are accorded dignity and respect, and our natural aptitudes and aspirations are nurtured for, so that we may all reach our full potential. This form of education can foster an environment conducive for the search for wisdom, removing falsehood, encouraging the path to enlightenment and empowering us to seek the truth.
What is thus needed is a complete education overhaul that can restore common sense, human and humane values, and a sense of responsibility in the interest of the common good to our education system and institutions.
For Education for the Common Good to be realised, the purpose of education must not only be (as important as they are) to: teach the students a trade; prepare them for a productive career; enabling them to earn a good income; but, more significantly, to teach them also how they may all live in peace and harmony with one another and with full respect for the rest of creation. Students must be encouraged to seriously reflect on daily basis on “What it means and entails to be human”. They must be taught value-led education, values which include loving kindness, generosity, sympathy, empathy, forgiveness, gratitude, duty, honesty, fortitude, responsibility, altruism, trust and dignity, amongst others.
This form of teaching must come first and well before teaching students how to make money. This will ensure that wealth creation will be sustainable and for useful reasons. Value-led wealth creation for the purpose of value-led expenditure and investment is to be encouraged and valued. Blessed are those wealth creators who know “Why” and “How” wealth is produced and more importantly when wealth is created “What” is it used for.
In other words, the purpose of education must be to produce socially sensitive and responsible citizens. A socially responsible person is one who is sensitive toward fellow human beings, the nature and environment so that all can be sustained, all can be valued.
Education for the Common Good, as I have explained so far, will promote the following mission and goals:
Education for the Common Good, as I have said time and again, should, as well as teaching the students how to make money, must also very much teach them how to live a fulfilling and rewarding life. A life of values and virtues. A life of inner peace and contentment, so that they may grow into peace-makers and peace-builders, whilst challenge the students to explore their inner moral core as they confront life’s ups and downs.
Thus, it should provide opportunities for students and teachers alike to discover the ways in which their talents, passions and academic pursuits can be used for the benefit of society through public engagement, volunteerism and service. They must be taught to do well by doing good. The students must be provided with opportunities to explore themes of community responsibility, active citizenship and informed leadership through service and community engagement at the local, national and international levels. The providers of Education for the Common Good, then, must encourage and assist their faculty members in connecting their teaching, research and artistic endeavors to issues of the public good, whilst addressing public concerns.
In addition, in fulfilling the mission of the Education for the Common Good, the students and the teachers alike at their respective institutes, should coordinate and support public events that challenge all members of the community to consider both the historical and contemporary meanings of the common good and to debate issues of broad public concern.
In short, Education for the Common Good, through an inter and multi-disciplinary approach to learning, with total respect for the spirit of inquiry and search for wisdom and truth, and with the development of the needed curriculum, in time, will broaden and deepen students' understanding of contemporary issues in education, educational foundations, and teaching and learning.
Moreover, Education for the Common Good will prepare, enlighten, challenge and empower the students to:
*Be Aware of the Big Picture- seeing life’s bigger questions.
*Embrace Theory and Practice- Study, work, volunteerism and service.
*Model and Live in the Spirit of Inquiry- Learning is a sacrament, Teaching is a vocation, both a long-life endavour that requires on-going learning, self-assessment, collaboration, and research.
And now finally Ladies and Gentlemen, given my long and varied experience in the field of education, I know that in order to realise our dream of Education for the Common Good, we must work together to build the University for the Common Good. Anyhow, this is another story, perhaps for another time.
The opportunity for change is now. We are living in a new world with new human capacities and new worldviews. In this time of the Great Transition, we must make systemic and radical changes to all our institutions, especially our education system and institutions. We must focus on prevention, share the earth’s resources, and come together as global citizens in a world community that cares enough to make the radical changes needed to create a new world for the common good.
In conclusion, I wish to invite you all to rise to the global challenges and uncertainties. Many campaigners for a better world, wishing to serve and to promote the common good, often face an uphill battle every day. Here, I wish to read you a poem from Hafez, the 14th century Persian philosopher of love, a seeker of wisdom who became a poet of genius, a lover of truth, who has transcended the ages. May this poem be a source of hope and inspiration to us, as we must remain positive; we must remain hopeful. We will build the World for the Common Good. We will.
Don't Despair Walk On
Josef to his father in Canaan shall return, don't despair walk on;
and Jacob's hut will brighten with flowers, don't despair walk on.
Aching hearts heal in time, vanished hopes reappear,
the disparate mind will be pacified, don't despair walk on.
As the spring of life grows the newly green meadow,
roses will crown the sweet nightingale's song, don't despair walk on.
If the world does not turn to your whims these few days,
cosmic cycles are preparing to change, don't despair walk on.
If desperation whispers you will never know God,
it's the talk of hidden games in the veil, don't despair walk on.
O heart, when the vast flood slashes life to its roots,
Captain Noah waits to steer you ashore, don't despair walk on.
If you trek as a pilgrim through sands to Kaabeh,
with thorns lodged deep in your soul shouting why, don't despair walk on.
Though oases hide dangers and your destiny's far,
there's no pathway that goes on forever, don't despair walk on.
My trials and enemies face me on their own,
but mystery always backs up my stand, don't despair walk on.
Hafez, weakened by poverty, alone in the dark,
this night is your pathway into the light, don't despair walk on.
May the Spirit of Hafez and Education for the Common Good spread everywhere, in our hearts, through our groups, and throughout the world.
Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen.
*Prof. Kamran Mofid is Founder of the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative- GCGI- (founded at an international conference in Oxford in 2002) and Co- founder/Editor, Journal of Globalisation for the Common Good, hosted at Purdue University, USA, member of the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of the World Public Forum, Dialogue of Civilisations (WPFDC), and Founding Member, World Dignity University. Mofid received his BA and MA in economics from the University of Windsor, Canada in 1980 and 1982 respectively. In 1986 he was awarded his doctorate in economics from the University of Birmingham, UK. In 2001 he received a Certificate in Education in Pastoral Studies at Plater College, Oxford. From 1980 to 2000 he was Economic Teaching Assistant, Tutor, Lecturer and Senior Lecturer at Universities of Windsor (Canada), Birmingham, Bristol, Wolverhampton, and Coventry (UK). Mofid's work is highly interdisciplinary, drawing on Economics, Business, Politics, International Relations, Theology, Culture, Ecology, Ethics and Spirituality. Mofid's writings have appeared in leading scholarly journals, popular magazines and newspapers. His books include Development Planning in Iran: From Monarchy to Islamic Republic , The Economic Consequences of the Gulf war, Globalisation for the Common Good, Business Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility and Globalisation for the Common Good , Promoting the Common Good (with Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke, 2005), and A non-Violent Path to Conflict Resolution and Peace Building (Co-authored, 2008). www.gcgi.info