Thursday, October 05, 2006

About nothing yet something.

I Went to a really valuable and quite intense discussion group yesterday evening. It was run by John Sullivan from the Theology Department. The question was "what makes Liverpool Hope special, what do we stand for, what gets lived out here that's maybe lacking elswhere?" It's a tough thing to grasp. How to begin discussing it, that some-thing yet no-thing?

It got real philosophical, which of course I love, but not in an airy fairy way. It was as I call it 'practically philosophical', if you see what I mean, delving into the deeper meaning of the question but not ever forgetting that what we were/are talking about was as real as the seat we were each sitting on, or at least must become so if it's to have any value at all.

I came away wondering, even though we had gone pretty far in our discusssion, whether or not we are so special, actually special, not just going around thinking we are? Beyond all the academix stuff, organisation, tutoring, assessment framework, performance standards and the like, which is obviously a feature of all Universities, what does Hope have or think it has that differentiates it from the rest?

Now this is of course my own personal view but I think that what this place certainly does have is the **potential** to be special. The fact that this discussion was even taking place at all seemed to me to be clear evidence of that potential; that we were bothering even to ask questions about uniqueness, about our culture, in effect about our collective state of mind. I do believe this really is an enormously important issue for this place.

The thing is, and what in my view at least lends even more weight to the importance is that it doesn't have to be special. Hope could simply go along like the rest, differentiating itself by the courses it offers, by the fees it charges, the subject areas it focuses on etc etc. Yet even me, a non-believer can see what the true purpose of this place needs to be. I am not a Christian yet the Christian message does not escape me. I know it is good, good at its heart. I think everyone knows that. And I can also percieve the history of this place, its roots, its heritage and its implied mission. Professor Pillay has already said it: it's about this idea of a learning community with a definite accent on community. This is what I myself came looking for when I came to University. I came back into full-time education specifically to find that; to find that community, that place where everyone was learning and assisting each other in that learning. But I didn't always find it here anymore than I suppose I would always have found it elsewhere. Thing is though, once I had been here a while, listened to what was being said, of how different this place should be, it oftentimes made me sad when I didn't find it or when it eluded me. Above all that is what I came to find.

So why is it to my mind just a potential rather than an actual? Well to begin with creating this type of culture is not a question of business objectives or performance targets. It cannot be tackled in a business meeting as an item on an agenda. It runs far deeper than that, it infuses everything that is done and acts like a cloud of 'being' that follows you around. It's a state of mind, a way of being, of acting, of living, it informs the relationship one has with everyone around, with each and every person we come into contact with at each and every moment. You can't simply put this on an agenda, raise it as just another item for discussion, assign it as a task and then ask for regular feedback. Truth is you cannot write this down in any form known to humankind and yet, it is known, and it is felt, by everyone.

So why do I think this uniqueness is only a potential? Well in my view because everyone here is part a part of this culture and there were only 7 people at that meeting, 6 if you don't include John himself! Collectively everyone at Hope assembles this culture at every moment they are here. Either their thoughts, decisions and actions are contributary to that culture or they are distructive of it.

This all sounds so critical doesn't it? And yet I feel like I have the right to do that, to criticise. After all I was once one of Hope's paying customers! Seriously though I do not think this is critical. It is simply something that has to be done. We have to understand what it means to be special, to be different and, I think that level of understanding will change everyone.

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