“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.”
Stephen Hawking goes on to say, “Try to make sense of what you see, and always wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.” Hawking’s call to wonder strikes a resonant chord in my being.
I am often asked about the nature of the course I teach on Creative Leadership. In brief, I am attempting to help students discover again this remarkable sense of curiosity we possessed as children, but that has been systematically removed from our lives by standardized tests, coloring between the lines, and a culture that undervalues creative pursuits and the strange answer.
I spend a semester reminding students to ask questions, to observe their world, to look at challenges and opportunities and belief systems from new perspectives. In truth, all I am asking them to do for eleven weeks, and a letter grade later, is to look up at the stars and imagine. To think for a moment about the grand cosmos in which we are spinning, and how miraculous and magical it is that as tiny little specs, we exist at all. To meditate for a moment on the mysteries of life and the gift of every dawn.
For a moment, I ask students to consider a world where Václav Havel didn’t lead the Velvet Revolution, a world where Sojourner Truth didn’t stand up against all odds and fight slavery, where Rhasan Roland Kirk, a blind jazz musician, didn’t take to the stage and play three different instruments at once, a world where Steinbeck didn’t pen the opening paragraph to Cannery Row, where Ed Abbey didn’t monkey wrench, and where Julia Butterfly Hill doesn’t climb trees, a world where U2 didn’t blast Bloody Sunday with resounding triumph or where Macklemore didn’t record Same Love, or a world that succeeded in stopping Martin Luther King’s dream, Cesar Chavez’s protests, or Rigoberta Menchú’s testifying for the plight of indigenous people. And finally, I ask students to consider a world that failed to give the N-Peace Awards in October of just last year to eight very deserving female human rights activists.
The resounding conclusion is that such a world does not exist. The human spirit fights everyday to keep us from Desolation Row, because the Times are Changing. The availability and the possibility of imagination from compassionate indignation will always win over the forces of oppression and enslavement of the mind.
In the Creative Leadership course, I then ask students to think of five people in their lives with dreams and imaginations and talents just as strong as the well-known heroes described above. In my life, I feel blessed that I can easily think of dozens. Do all these people work? Indeed. With blood, sweat, and tears. Do they all love? To a near unfathomable amount they love(d) their fellow human beings. Are they curious? Filled with excitement and passion for life? Of the most powerful kind.
I started this, “A Wanderer Looks at 30” series by proclaiming that I would not come to a philosophy of my own, but that I would instead reflect on the words of Stephen Hawking. After my three-day rambling on his eloquent quote, it’s even clearer to me that his three guiding truths for life, (love and don’t let go, work and let it bring you meaning, look up at the starts and wonder), are ancient wisdoms we should and must live to fulfill.
But what does this mean for us as we head into our thirties? Where do we begin, or maybe continue, the path of work, love, and imagination? To put it succinctly, in the words that I heard from the president of my university on the first day of college, we must start by “dreaming big,” for ourselves, and our world. Then, we must go out and live those dreams fearlessly, with a wild will to wander.
Ubuntu, from you’re friend and brother,