A threshold is the point where a new era or experience begins - like a doorway into a new relationship, a bridge that takes you to another country, or the completion of a course of study that prepares you to take up your life's work.
This past week, I traveled to Bainbridge Island to teach the last class of the last semester of the last year for the MBA graduating class of 2010 at Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI).
MBA with a Twist BGI is not your typical business school. Yes, we teach economics, accounting and finance. Yes, we saturate students in Harvard Business Review case studies: The Body Shop (did they sell out on their values when they sold to L'Oréal?); urban redevelopment efforts in the city of St. Louis (which used to be in the top 10 cities in the nation); etc.
But that's where the sameness ends and the rubber begins to hit the road.
The founders and faculty at BGI feel that business leaders must understand the principles of systems thinking, earth's macro- and micro-cycles, and the connectedness of all living beings. We teach sustainability but not as an add-on course; sustainability is at the center of our curriculum.
Sustainability is not just a buzz word, it is a requirement for innovation. Very soon - as we more deeply injure earth's natural systems - it will be all that business does. (Remember when we could drink the water from the streams while hiking? Remember when farmers didn't have to hire bees to pollinate their crops? Remember when there were fish in the oceans?)
BGI students also get an outsized dose of character building and consciousness raising. It's difficult to explain, but let me try.
Appreciations Class every day, when we are physically together, begins with something called "morning circle," which is a gathering of the community in the great hall. First, we sit quietly together; then the "appreciations" begin.
An appreciation is stated by one person to another or to a group of others. It is a thank you for something, sometimes tangible, sometimes not.
It is a time of deep awareness which gives everyone - whether you choose to speak or not - the opportunity to think over your past day and surprise yourself by finding a kindness or an important moment that you had almost missed. If another person is involved, you may decide to stand up, witnessed by your community, and thank that person directly.
If you are the person being appreciated, you accept the thanks, graciously.
The act is simple and profound. It is one of many features of the BGI culture that creates a different type of graduate.
And as a faculty, we hope we are preparing our students to walk from graduation into a new world, across a threshold and into a world that will be created by people like Justin Tilson.
Justin is one of our 2010 graduates. An Ontario native now living in Vancouver, BC, he is partnered with Lisa, an amazing fiber artist, and with her has fashioned a homestead mash-up of Mother Earth news meets FiberArts Magazine.
He has also walked through many thresholds - perhaps the most dramatic was in 1997 when he took off on a stumpjumper and crushed vertebrae T5 and T6, paralyzing his legs. Being a "para" (as he says) has not slowed him down. He is still downhill racing, scuba diving, handcycling, sit-skiing, paragliding, kayaking and sky diving. (Check him out at www.justintilson.com)
Justin was chosen by his classmates to give the BGI graduation speech, and here is part of his message:
"One of the most powerful experiences a visitor to BGI will remark upon is the witnessing of students giving and receiving appreciations. Personally, witnessing and experiencing the appreciation ritual has softened my armor and blessed me with more openness to give and receive love. An MBA program might seem like an odd place to learn such lessons but I believe it is a sign of the times to come.
"One of the reasons I believe I was asked to speak to you today is to share a vision, a vision for BGI and a vision for the world. It is not my vision but a vision that I now speak for. It is a vision shared by many, but not commonly articulated in the highly controlled culture that we live in, and even less frequently spoken of in a business context. It is the vision that change agent extraordinaire Lynne Twist [co-founder of the Pachamama Foundation] lifted all of us to see during her numerous presentations at the last intensive; the vision of the eagle and condor flying together.
The Eagle and the Condor "The tale of the eagle and condor comes from the Indigenous people of South America. It tells of a time when the people of the materially developed world, the thinkers and planners, exchange wisdom with the people of the indigenous world, the feelers and connectors.
"These great cultures fly together for the benefit of all. Most sacred traditions share the recognition that now is a time of accelerating transformation - from a predominantly materialistic worldview to a predominantly spiritual worldview.
"I believe that this change is well underway. There is evidence all over the globe, from grassroots organizations to global businesses.
"Paul Hawken, visionary author in the field of sustainable business, remarks on the scale of change underway in his latest book, "Blessed Unrest." In it, he describes the million-plus groups and organizations around the world responding like a planetary immune system to thwart those with intent to harm.
"Every moment that you choose to consciously direct your life from your head and heart rather than from fear, you are the eagle and condor merged as one. Live joyfully, follow your heart, let it lead you to right-livelihood or, in the words of Parker J. Palmer, the place where your passion meets the world's greatest need.
"Living in this manner creates a subtle shift that spreads light through thoughts and deeds. Aggregated, these actions are creating a tsunami of love that will change everything.
It's All About Love
"Given the general level of dysfunction in the world I think it is safe to say that our collective ego has been calling the shots far too often.
"The trouble with this is that egos are never really satisfied. When we let this aspect of our being lead our lives, we always end up with unsatisfactory results. In the case of business, we end up with companies striving to profit, even at the cost of destroying the planet.
"In the case of our civilization, we have grown like cancer on the surface of the planet and now cancer affects almost one in every two people. As grim as this is, the answer to all the world's woes is the same. To borrow some words from economist Mark Anielski, 'it's all about the love.'
"As each of us shifts to lead our lives from an informed space of love in service to one another, our outer reality will transform to reflect this new shared state of being. In the new economy we won't prioritize material growth and gross domestic product at the expense of environmental, social, and spiritual values. We will instead be creating businesses that grow our consciousness, our love and our well-being in ways that honor each other and regenerate the health of the planet.
"All of you are the reason I have so much hope and faith that we will truly change business for good. Thank you."
The Road More Traveled As I traveled this week, I found myself appreciating the song of the Naches River; apple pie at Evey's in Pe Ell; fresh asparagus; yellow tulips at the Degoede Bulb Farm on Mossyrock Road; the generosity of my family; and Cathy Russ' campaign signs east of Lebam (which told me I was almost home).
And I have great admiration for and appreciation of Justin Tilson. If an MBA graduate has the gumption and awareness to deliver the above message, we might just make it.