Friday, October 7, 2011

Living in the future tense

     Earlier this week I had coffee with a member of the faculty who has been at the university for many decades.  He is in the process of retiring, and is pulling away from various responsibilities.  I wanted to take the opportunity to hear what it was about DU that had kept him (and so many others) here so long.  As one might imagine, I heard A LOT!  There wasn't one specific thing that stood out, more of a montage of good memories -- even through the difficult times.  He spoke of the changes in chancellors (and their priorities); he talked about specific people; he mentioned retrenchments during trying economic times; he talked about the increasing capabilities of students.  Through it all, it seemed to me that the one thing that was beneath all of the stories was a sense of optimism and commitment to making it work, to improving, to living into the future.
     That sense of forward-looking seems to characterize much of the commentaries and tributes that have filled the airwaves since the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.  The stories -- both those that have found their way to the mainstream media (and blog sites) as well as the little anecdotes I read in Facebook updates -- focus on how Jobs kept looking for ways to innovate . . . and to delight.  The concern for the future of Apple without its visionary leader has certainly been raised.  Analysts, however, seem to think that a culture of looking to the future has become so ingrained in the company that folks need not worry.
     I was captivated by the stories told me by that member of the faculty, as well as by those about Steve Jobs.  Captivated because there is something hopeful in them.  So different than most of the news, or stories, we hear almost all of the rest of the time.  Hearing stories about "the best" or "peak experiences" energizes most of us.  Yet we are surrounded by stories about what's deficient, or needs fixing.
     I did not ask my coffee-partner about what needed to be corrected at DU; I asked him about the university at its best.  And we both went away up-beat and hopeful (at least I certainly did).   And while the death of Steve Jobs has hit many around the world hard, his legacy -- the way he lived his life, and died his death, as well as his spirit of innovation -- gives hope.  I didn't have to ask about them; they just seemed to roll out of their own accord.
     I am reminded that Moses, as he looked into the Promised Land, knowing that he was not to enter it, charged the Israelites to look forward, to be faithful to the covenant that they had established with the God they believed had delivered them.  He warned them against turning astray; things would not go well if they did.  He summed it all up by saying:  "Choose life so that you and your descendants may live . . . " (Deuteronomy 30.19).   The faculty person with whom I shared coffee could not see all of DU's future, but based on decades of experience, he believed it was bright.  Steve Jobs had known for years that he had cancer; it did not deter him from building on the best experiences Apple had known and looking ahead.
     And so I wonder, what might we learn if we spent more time asking people to tell stories about their best experiences?  There are different threads, and different trajectories, found in stories that focus on the best.  I think that's one of the reasons we like inspirational, positive, movies . . . and why we're so tired of the current negative discourse that fills our airwaves.   What is suggested by the "problematic" keeps us mired in the past, a past about which we can do nothing.  What is suggested to us, however, by the "best" can lead us to a hopeful future.
     So, share stories about your BEST experiences about . . .    Share stories about when you were MOST FULLY engaged in . . .   Dream about a future based on the best.  And then act into that reality



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