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Professor Doug Powers: What is your vision for our future students' lives?

Jun 1, 2020

We asked Professor Doug Powers, "What is your vision for our future students' lives?" The following is his response.

Our goal for both future and current students is relatively simple. The world that our students face is constantly changing, extremely complex, and extremely challenging. The economic, social, and cultural conditions, the national identity, and every aspect of the fundamental ways that humans have been doing things up until now, are probably going to be under some strain and changing in radical ways.

So, at this moment in time, the most important thing that a human being could have is a sense of confidence in their own ability to analyze what's going on and make good choices both for themselves and within the context of the economic and cultural conditions that they find themselves in. The single most important thing they need to have is confidence, so when they analyze themselves they're realistic, and when they analyze what they're going to do within the world, they're strategically efficient. This means they are being realistic about what they can actually do, and what they can actually be successful at.

That's a matching of two kinds of wisdom. One is a kind of internal wisdom of their own self, their own narrative, their own story of themselves, the sense of expectations, or lack of expectations, that they have internally. And the other is a wisdom of external reality, the cultural, the symbolic, the economic, the social, and all the different realms in which we engage in. Our students need to be operating within the world around them with confidence, analyzing and using strategies that give them higher degrees of probability of being efficient in the way they use their time to solve the basic problems of life. 

There's a bunch of basic things that are necessary for a human life, such as eating, meaning, living conditions, and relationships. Every one of those basic things require a lot of knowledge and strategy to be efficient about attaining them. However, if for example, you have a lot of money without having a good sense of what is really satisfying to you, and are not mentally healthy in your own self and don't appreciate yourself, then the money isn't necessarily going to do you a lot of good. On the other hand, not having enough money, if you have certain expectations that are important to you and the frustration of not having enough money to basically survive overwhelms you emotionally, that isn't helpful either. So, the middle way is being realistic. You need solidity in your internal sense of yourself and at the same time, efficiency in terms of dealing with the way you come at the world around you. 

So, those are two really huge realms of knowledge that require wisdom rather than technical training. Current universities are set up as technical trainings, work-related trainings, or even culturally-related trainings. And they teach certain mathematical and technological techniques. Those are all important, but in an overall lifetime, those are absolutely secondary. Those are just parts of the strategy. They're not the fundamental wisdom. They are part of the strategies you might use to be successful in certain elements of your life, but they're not related to the fundamental aspects of your existence, your being, your whole lifetime of existence.

So, our goal is to give people the means to analyze by looking at many different pieces of literature and philosophy we've picked out that have the most profundity in developing both aspects of wisdom. The program speaks to that internal sense of yourself, in terms of finding meaning, being comfortable with your own process, and being at home in yourself. And at the same time, it speaks to knowing how to analyze the time you live in, what's going on in terms of the economic system, the cultural system, the value systems that hold people together in a particular time. And how you can use your intelligence to be strategic and efficient and engage the external world.

So, we unabashedly, unequivocally, and without any embarrassment are completely focused on the students in their own ability to be comfortable within themselves and have a sense of freedom in their own mind, alongside a sense of confidence in analyzing what's going on around them so they can be skillful, helpful, compassionate, and have a meaningful life as a part of the larger community.  We want students to come away with an ability to do both those things.