Dear Members of the TWU Community:
I have been looking forward to writing this Thanksgiving message even though it comes with somewhat mixed feelings. On one hand, days are getting shorter and the thought of winter months is becoming more real. On the other, however, is Thanksgiving itself, a favorite and wonderful holiday. It is a favorite because the focus is on the many blessings we have in our lives. For me the blessing at the top of my list is the honor of working towards a compelling mission together with the tremendous faculty and staff that make TWU such a great place. I thank each and every one of you for being part of our wonderful team and contributing to our shared values.
I also think, particularly this year, that the blessings we have in our lives must be especially honored and celebrated, even as we lament the terrible actions of the past few weeks. If we do anything less, doesn’t that help accomplish what those who perpetrate these horrendous acts want to achieve?
Beginning with my service here at TWU, I have talked about our unique opportunity to educate and develop the ‘whole person.’ I am more affirmed than ever in this vision and it raises in my mind a special word I like, especially at this Thanksgiving, because its meaning goes far beyond a simple definition. The word is “Ubuntu.” It is African (Bantu) and represents a philosophy which means that as humans we flourish in relationship, not in isolation…said simply, “I am because you are.” But Ubuntu means much more than how we see ourselves as individuals in relationship. It is a societal—in our case, institutional—philosophy that hopefully will define our TWU campus-wide culture.
Many of you have heard me say if I were asked to define the era we are in, I’d call it the Age of Relationships. I say that because we have seen the decline of the old ‘top down’ hierarchical institutions juxtaposed against a new digital world that offers enormous potential for each of us, regardless of our backgrounds. Success now depends on our individual talents and the relationships and support systems we build around ourselves and others in our care. The recent Gallup Purdue Index now provides real evidence to this effect. Graduates and alumni indeed identified meaningful relationships with a professor or mentor as one of the main reasons why their education was worth the cost. That is laudable but is it enough? Can we achieve a culture of Ubuntu at TWU?
When we think of organizational culture and the stepping stones we will travel to bring about its desired state, here is a wonderful metaphor from a site called the Daily Ohm that I read regularly. It seems appropriate as we move down this path.
“Trees grow up through their branches and down through their roots into the earth. They also grow wider with each passing year. As they do, they shed the bark that served to protect them but now is no longer big enough to contain them. In the same way, we create boundaries and develop defenses to protect ourselves and then, at a certain point, we outgrow them. If we don’t allow ourselves to shed our protective layer, we can’t expand to our full potential.
Trees need their protective bark to enable the delicate process of growth and renewal to unfold without threat. Likewise, we need our boundaries and defenses so that the more vulnerable parts of ourselves can safely heal and unfold. But our growth also depends upon our ability to soften, loosen, and shed boundaries and defenses we no longer need.”
‘Shedding our bark’ and striving for an Ubuntu culture is what gives me hope, makes me optimistic and frankly makes life so meaningful.
Personally, I also want to say “thank you” for all the messages I have received asking about the well-being of my family in Belgium. Yes, it is a worry but everyone is fine and like that ‘Belgae’ tribe that goes back to the Roman times, they are confident that ‘right’ will prevail. PS, even Julius Caesar was not able to conquer them! ;-)
In closing, it seems so appropriate right now to recognize one of the most famous Parisian writers of all time, Marcel Proust…and be mindful of something he said:
“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
My wish is that you have many happy people in your life at this Thanksgiving.
Carine M. Feyten, Ph.D.