An Infinite Number of Possibilities

Recently, I became re-engaged in music composition, using a very helpful software program. As I taught myself how to navigate the program, I found myself wanting to write more and more, finding it fascinating that there are infinite possibilities for structuring melodies and harmonies with a set number of notes. The idea of creating something new and unique, using a finite set of building blocks – in this case, notes – caused me to think about ourselves and our uniqueness as a result of the slightly altered configurations of our DNA. While we are all made from the same substance, it is amazing that the number of combinations of that substance is infinite.

Pope Francis, during his recent visit to the United States for the World Meeting of Families, touched on this theme in many of his speeches and homilies, when he spoke of working together, collaborating and compromising, while respecting our differences. His words and tone were welcoming and far-reaching, and there was a message of hope, suggesting that possibilities of what can be achieved are limitless if people can work together. And so once again, we have infinite possibilities coming from finite resources – ourselves, who are very much composed of the same stuff, but, at the same time, are vastly different from each other.

Included in the summer 2015 issue of Independent School magazine were a series of essays written by teachers who had participated in the SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) Program, a part of the National Seed Project, coordinated out of Wellesley College. In one essay by Hugo Mahabir, he reflects on his childhood and stated, “The household I grew up in was a place where things were either right or wrong with very little room for ambiguity or variance, even less for multiplicity and plurality.” He writes about his classroom experiences with students and a self-discovery that, as he states, “. . . what I had always believed and sensed as a child was true: that there is more than one answer to a question, that there are many sides to a story, and there is always more than meets the eye.”

In thinking about Mr. Mahabir’s comments as it relates to my experience of creating music that has infinite variations, I cannot help but think that the complexity of human beings causes an unlimited number of possibilities, answers, directions, conclusions, beliefs, and “truths” that all either co-exist or are waiting to be discovered. How can all of us simultaneously ever come to terms with knowing the one answer, the one direction, the one conclusion, the one belief, or the one truth? I believe that the words of Pope Francis help us understand that through dialog, collaboration, and compromise, we might become more unified in thought; however, given the complexities of life, I dare say that to arrive at absolute agreement seems unlikely. But the journey of our lives is about asking questions and seeking answers of and with each other. Doing so with respect, empathy, and authenticity allows us to continue the conversation, rather than stifle it and stifle the endless possibilities that could come from it.

Katherine Phillips wrote an article, “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter,” in Scientific American (September 14, 2014) based on the report, “State of the World’s Science 2014.” Based on research from Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, and other universities, Phillips discusses the elements of diversity that contribute to better decisions and answers. She comments, “The key to understanding the positive influence of diversity is the concept of information diversity. When people are brought together to solve problems in groups, they bring different information, opinions and perspectives.” These conversations have impact on education, with many institutions’ administration and staff, including Archmere’s, discussing ways in which curriculum is “global,” and “multi-cultural,” and how teaching methodologies include group work and collaborative teambuilding skills. Higher educational research is beginning to quantify the improved outcomes of more diverse working groups.

Just as I get so focused on writing music at times, exploring the possibilities, so too are we beginning to explore and understand the richness of our diverse culture, and how embracing common bonds and respecting differences can create new and innovative outcomes that can benefit us all. And interestingly, the older I get the less I think I know for sure . . . I have more questions about many things, but I am sure about the power of God’s love, and if we embrace it, we can achieve an infinite number of possibilities.

Keep on Truckin’

imagesThe 1974 Archmere yearbook, The Patio, had as its theme, “Keep on Truckin’.” Certainly a 1970’s “Mod” term that we do not often hear today, I do believe that it is still the feeling many of us have about our daily existence. And I would also suggest that it has evolved significantly in its meaning from 1974, based on the complexities of our lives.

In a recent Scientific American magazine article, “The Four Dimensional Future of Stuff”, Skyler Tibbits, MIT Research Scientist, states, “The technology builds on 3-D printing with the added fourth dimension of time, across which objects transform.” The article goes on to report that, “Last year, his team printed various materials onto a sheet of carbon fiber that, when exposed to heat, curled up into a predetermined shape.” The future concept is that when someone opens a box, the item inside assembles itself. This notion of constant evolution presents the intriguing idea of adding the fourth dimension of time in a real way to the three spacial dimensions.

At the same time, I was reading a book by Pope Francis, which he wrote when he was Archbishop of Argentina in collaboration with Rabbi Abraham Skorka. Pope Francis writes, “What a great word: path! In my personal experience with God I cannot do without the path. I would say that one encounters God walking, moving, seeking him and allowing oneself to be sought by him. They are two paths that meet. On the one hand, there is our path that seeks him, driven by that instinct that flows from the heart; and after, when we have encountered each other, we realize that he was the one who had been searching for us from the start.” (p. 2) Experiencing God is not static, but fluid, much like the fourth dimension now being discussed by MIT researchers in developing new experiences for us.

In another book by Pope Francis, The Church of Mercy, he writes in a chapter entitled, Walking, “Walking is one of my favorite words when I think about a Christian and about the Church.” Pope Francis continues his thoughts by stating, “I think that it is most truly the most wonderful experience we can have: to belong to a people walking, journeying through history with our Lord, who walks among us! We are not alone; we do not walk alone.” (p.75)

We begin another school year, and in so doing, hope to see our students grow and evolve in so many ways, such that when they leave Archmere, they are prepared to manage the next steps of their journeys. Certainly we are focused on their academic resume; it is and has been a hallmark of Archmere’s reputation that the school provides students with an academically challenging experience. As an adult community of parents and teachers, we are also attuned to the social and emotional development of our children, though opinions vary from time to time on exactly how to best handle issues. This often puts all of us adults – parents, teachers and administrators – in a “grey area” that requires conversation and discussion. Hopefully, there is consensus and our children receive a clear and cohesive signal from us as adults. Easier said than done, however. And perhaps that is what Pope Francis, Rabbi Skorka, and even MIT researcher, Dr. Tibitts, are saying indirectly as they comment about the fourth dimension and time. You may look at an issue from any variety of vantage points, but ultimately, at some point in time, you must make an evaluation and decision. As time progresses, that decision carries revelations and consequences, which can be perceived as both positive and negative. Those of us – the adults – who are responsible for these decisions realize how difficult and challenging they are. We recognize quickly that, while we do not have all of the answers, we are asked to give them. So what do we do?

I believe that we have to approach life and its challenges, decisions and dilemmas, with the attitude of a pilgrim on a journey, as Pope Francis describes. No project is ever finished, because the ramifications of our impact on the project will be long-felt. Our paths cross, and we attempt to do the best we can to reflect our God for others – to be treated as we would want to be treated within the confines of our abilities and resources.

As Head of School for 12 years, beginning my 6th year as Headmaster at Archmere, and as a school administrator for 29 years, I can say that the journeys to which each of us are called are exciting and wonderful, but at the same time, challenging and sometimes difficult. It is easy to manage the exciting and wonderful times, but it is certainly not easy to manage the challenging and difficult ones. During the latter times, I pray for compassion, understanding, and a sense of right judgment that allows me to think through the challenge or difficulty and imagine what the time afterwards might feel like. In other words, I imagine the situation like the carbon fiber that, once opened, will arrange itself into a predefined shape. The big difference in this analogy is that I do not have the guarantee of the “pre-defined shape;” I can only hope to imagine it. And isn’t that what God is like?

So, with that sense of journeying and not always knowing what is around the bend, I wish our students and families, and particularly our newest students and families who are joining us this year, a fruitful and fulfilling journey. As there are always a few difficult days that are outweighed by many more positive and exciting ones, perhaps the 1974 advice of our yearbook theme is best remembered: “Keep on Truckin’!”