The best of times
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” ~Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
This is a favorite quote of my mentor, a Harvard-trained physicist who went back to school to earn his Masters in Literature and History and his Ph.D. in Literature and Art. Dr. Edward Passerini could explain theoretical physics while expounding upon the virtues of Larry Gonick’s The Cartoon History of the Universe. Everything I ever needed to know about sustainability I first learned from “Ed.” It’s no wonder I’m a big believer in interdisciplinary education. I believe the “silos” that are so present in education, research, business, and culture are a major contributing factor to our current social and environmental problems. Interdisciplinary/cross-cultural education helps break down silos and leads to more sustainable solutions.
I can think of no field that is more fertile with cross-disciplinary research and practical application than the broad field of sustainability. Today’s green buildings borrow from nature’s designs (biomimicry) as well as our own historic architecture. Their features rely on both cutting-edge physics research and time-honored practices passed down from “primitive” peoples. They are works of art as well as monuments to science. Some of them even sing.
If I can boil the gist of this article down to a single kernel, it is this: Read. Read deeply, but more importantly, read broadly. Read non-fiction as well as fiction. It may not be economically or environmentally feasible to physically travel and experience the world’s countries and cultures, but we can read about them. I use the term “read” loosely – read books that are nothing but pictures, listen to audio books during your commute, watch TED talk videos, take free online classes, meet folks and learn from other countries and cultures via the wonders of Internet social networking. So by read, I mean learn, meet, experience, be surprised. Never lose your childhood sense of wonder, when every new thing invoked a “Why?” question.
So—what are you reading now? I’m enjoying Reinventing Fire, by Amory Lovins and his team at Rocky Mountain Institute. (Now there’s a book to read—especially if you’re depressed over the current political silos and need some good news.) My latest audio book choice for my work commute is The Information by James Gleick. At home, I have a book of ghost stories by my bedside to ensure, er, pleasant dreams. I’m also taking Code Academy’s classes online—although I have to admit I’m way behind schedule on this one. Good thing it’s “learn at your own pace.” Weekly is just a suggestion.
Speaking of classes, it’s never too late to go back to school. Me? I’m in a Ph.D. program at middle-age. I used to joke that I wanted my doctorate before I was retirement age, but the older I get, the less funny the joke is. So what’s the use of a Ph.D. this late in life? Well, I can tell you, it’s not because I’m interested in pursuing tenure at some Ivory Tower institution, or even because it will enhance my career path, long and twisted as that has been. I’m in an engineering program, but I don’t even want to be a licensed engineer. I’m here because I want to learn—and I want to change the world. It’s always the worst of times, so let’s make the best of it.
“Education is all a matter of building bridges.” ~ Ralph Ellison
Kyle Crider is Manager – Environmental Operations at Ecotech Institute and Education Corporation of America. He holds a Master of Public Administration degree with a double-emphasis in Urban Planning & Policy Analysis. He is also a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional, Neighborhood Development (LEED AP ND). He is currently in the Interdisciplinary Engineering Ph.D. Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Ecotech Institute or Education Corporation of America. Email Kyle at email@example.com
image: Maurizio Abbate via Flickr cc (some rights reserved)