Over the past few years I have been dismayed commercialization of so many aspects of our lives, access to health care and higher education are two such examples. Daily I read in the newspapers or hear on the radio stories of individual greed at the expense of large portions of society – whether it be someone like Bernard Madoff who defrauds people and institutions of the financial resources, or researchers who falsify data and lie about their research findings to personally benefits from their deception to politicians who put self-interest and ideology before the welfare of the people they serve. Where is the awareness that these short-term gains comes at the expense of the long-term future of our society. Where is the moral and political leadership necessary to change this trend? Whenever I reflect on these questions I always think of the challenge the Tragedy of the Commons described by Garrett Hardin in Science (1968).
Having spent over 40 years teaching in higher education I believe that part of the solution to the problems we face as a society is to prepare the next generation of leaders from the population of students current attending our colleges and universities today. We can not ignore the natural order, as Bernard Baruch would ofter say, that the current generation of leaders will pass away and be replaced by a new generation. I believe it is my responsibility and the responsibility of my colleagues in the higher education field to prepare our students for this task. But how do we accomplish this?
It seems to me that history has much to teach us about leadership and values and challenges we face as individuals grappling with finding our place int he world. The legacy of those who came before us and the lessons we can learn from their experiences should not be lost. Over the past few years I have come to gain a great deal of respect for Bernard M. Baruch, the speculator, philanthropist and statesman that Bernard M. Baruch College is named after. I recently came across Baruch’s discussion of the lesson he learned when he began to turn his attention to public service. He wrote the following in Part II of his Autobiography The Public Years
The problem of conflict of interest is a serious one which frequently bedevils Washington in its efforts to recruit able men into government service. No man can serve two masters; no honorable man would try. A representative of business who betrayed the government would never get another play in business. But many men, ready to serve the government faithfully, are unable or unwilling to divest themselves of financial holdings as a price of service. To some it constitutes a sacrifice – or a penalty. Actually the problem of conflicting interests is not so much a matter of the securities in a man’s portfolio, but of his integrity and open-mindedness. The honest and enlightened man in public will put the government’s interest above all others, no matter what his personal financial interests are or may have been. The dishonest or narrow man will not be made otherwise by temporary disposal of his holdings.
In the Spring of 2011, Andrew Revkin, NY Times Environmental reporter and author of the Blog Dot Earth made a presentation before a group of Climate Change Professionals from Australia, CHina, Indonesia and Japan participating in a State Department Program at Baruch College. He talked about the impact of the Tsumani that had hit Japan a month earlier and told the story of the ancient stones that recorded tsunamis that occurred in the past. I have copy the following piece from the story that appeared on his blog;
I encourage you to read “ Tsunami-hit towns forgot warnings from ancestors,” a haunting and fascinating Associated Press story by Jay Alabaster describing centuries-old stone tablets warning of coastal tsunami risk that dot the Japanese coast ravaged by the great earthquake and resulting waves on March 11th.
This is an example of how “disaster memory,” conveyed from generation to generation, can — at least for a time — limit losses from inevitable, but rare, calamities. The inscription inscribed on one stone was quoted in the article:
High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants…. Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point.
In some parts of the world, tsunami warnings have been passed down through oral traditions. That is the case on Simeulue Island in Indonesia, which was struck by the extraordinary Indian Ocean tsunami on Dec. 26, 2004.
Revkin hypothesizes that humans forget the past after about 50-70years. Imagine the pain and suffer that we might avoid if we honors those who past down our history from generation to generation. In some cultures they are called wisdom keepers.
If you are interested in reading more about Andrew Revkin’s views click on the links below.
Legacy is not restricted to the past – we have a responsibility for the legacy we will leave our children and grand children’s generation. What will it be?