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Seminar on Positive Change

Is it an inherent human responsibility for each of us to try to make a positive difference in the world? How do we each go about doing so? How can we best measure the results, both for those we would seek to benefit and within our own lives?

This seminar would investigate positive change, from the most dramatic and long-term initiatives to the simplest, quietest individual effort to make life better for someone else.

We will examine the motivations of well-known idealists and dreamers as well as some of the most respected leaders and organizations of our time. We will consider what disciplines have perhaps a disproportionate power for positive change.

Finally, acknowledging the many crises in today’s world, we will speculate on ways in which our societies might foster visionary leadership more successfully.

This course is proposed as a seminar, with at least one structured debate at each meeting of the class.

(still in development)

“Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be.”
William Hazlitt

I     Is it an inherent responsibility for each of us to try to make a positive difference in the world?
What do our own ethical and religious traditions tell us? Does participation depend on financial or social resources? To what degree should we commit? Does it matter if we do nothing? Are we aware of possible negative influences on the world? What are the things to change, anyway?

II     Self-assessment: a necessary measure of commitment.
Are we born to be idealists or activists? To what degree? How do we withstand ridicule, censure, isolation, poverty, or imprisonment?

III     “If I were king…”
Do our leaders, elected and appointed, seek positive change or power? Does war ever lead to positive change?

IV     What is the range of possibilities?
Historical models, large organizations, governments, individuals, and small-scale changes.

V     Gender, race and religious distinctions
Have they made a difference in history? Do they make a difference now?

VI     Money
How is it used? What does giving money actually accomplish? How should we qualify potential recipients?

VII     How do I become more of an activist?
Where do I begin? Whom do I trust? What are my goals?

VIII     What is my return on investment?
Spiritual, financial, social, personal…

IX     Heroes of positive change, nine case histories
The independent activist, within the system:    Bill Drayton of Ashoka
The independent activist, outside the system:   Albert Schweitzer
Architect:     Le Corbusier
Sculptor:      Michelangelo
Adventurer: Jacques Cousteau
Politician:     Teddy Roosevelt
Photographer: Sebastiao Salgado
Writer:         Rachel Carson
Filmmaker:   Robert Redford

X     The special role of the artist: Leonardo da Vinci
From the caves of Lascaux to digital art of the modern day, what roles do artists play in positive change?

XI     The special role of the inventor: Thomas Edison
Was the wheel invented with good intent? What about gunpowder? Or printing? Or computers?

XII     Would you give up your life?
Karen Silkwood, Gandhi, soldiers

(partial, excerpts from:)

Albert SchweitzerJames Brabazon 
A ManOriana Fallaci 
An Uncertain GraceSebastiao Salgado 
Edison: A Life of InventionPaul Israel 
Speech at Harvard 1995Vaclav Havel 
The Story of My Experiments With TruthMohandas Karamchand Gandhi 
Transforming Leadership: The Pursuit of HappinessJames MacGregor Burns 
Leonardo Da VinciKenneth Clark 
Letters to My ChildrenTeddy Roosevelt 
Long Walk to FreedomNelson Mandela 
On Human NatureEdward Osborne Wilson 
LongitudeDava Sobel 
Silent SpringRachel Carson 
The Family of ManMuseum of Modern Art 
Towards a New ArchitectureLe Corbusier 


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