Address to Graduating Students – Edinburgh University

The world is full of experts. Fairly soon, those of you who are graduating today will join them – that is if you can find a job. This is not straight forward in these difficult economic times.

 

It is wonderful to be an expert, to be a professional person in a specific field. But, as you proceed into the world of professionalism with your particular expertise, never stop listening to those who have something to say about your sphere of activity, even if they are not qualified.

Do not become a “laboratory hermit”! Do not live in a professional “silo”!

One of the problems we face today is what has been described as “disabling professionalism” – the idea that if you are not qualified, you have no right to an opinion. We should not always defer to experts.

The economic problems we face today, the challenges of climate change, the looming end of the petroleum interval, global poverty, the rise of radical extremism and so much else are not just management problems to be fixed by experts.

The problems the world faces today ask us deep questions about the kind of society we have created and invite us to consider that the solutions we need might not in fact lie in “more of the same” or “business as usual”, but in embracing an alternative imagination using different tools. As Mahatma Ghandi and others have said, you cannot expect the tools that created your problems to be the right tools to use to fix them.

Meeting the challenges of our times invites us not just to be experts and professionals in our particular sphere, but to nurture discernment, understanding and wisdom in order that the world might flourish and humanity survive and thrive. I love the vision of the American beat poet, Gary Snyder who wrote the following not long ago. “We need a religious view that embraces nature and does not fear science; business leaders who know and accept ecological and spiritual limits; political leaders who have spent time working in schools, factories or farms and who still write poems. We need intellectual and academic leaders who have studied both history and ecology and like to dance and cook. We need poets and novelists who pay no attention to literary critics. But what we ultimately need most is human beings who love the world”.

In a world that cries out for better and more gentle governance we need to learn that aliveness and joy are as important if not more important than expertise and professionalism.

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