August 25, 2020

Caring: Today’s Civic Responsibility

As we begin a new academic year, I have been reflecting on what is important – and vital as well as necessary – for each of us to traverse this unprecedented moment of world history. I believe it is an era that demands we care for each other – and understand what caring means.

The 20th century American philosopher Milton Meyerhoff observed that caring, in its most authentic form, is helping others to grow and thrive. Indeed, he was correct. Especially now, as we continue to confront the impact of COVID-19, caring for each other must become one of our new mantras. If we are to survive, flourish and be better as both a University and a nation, caring must become a civic responsibility.

Caring has always been important, yet it may be more important today than ever before. In the age of COVID-19, caring is about assuring that each of us remains healthy, are responsible and engage in behaviors that are empathic and supportive of one another. Yes, it is about physical distancing, wearing a mask, sanitizing and washing our hands and embracing other public health prescriptions. But caring also is about transforming our society for the better by affirming the values of equity and inclusion and actively confronting systemic racism. Caring is about having the courage to change.

The health and social upheaval we are experiencing are prompting transformative change. While today’s public health challenges and social context are re-shaping so much about our world, the stirring of our national conscious will, in my view, become the “tip for inflection” that will transform who we are, how we interact and how we relate to one another.

The respected author and late Harvard professor Clayton Christianson identified the concept of “disruptive innovation.” He opined that disruption has repeatedly been a result of societal events, inventions or other catalysts that result in broad, and often radical change. Christianson’s model also applies to individuals and our communities that are redefining how we live, relate to each other and work.

Today, an array of influential stimulants have seeded national and global change – with change accelerating rapidly. Traumatic as they are, diruptions to our lives are best mediated by caring. When we are intentional in our caring for others, we are helping others to grow,  thrive and adapt. In other words, caring is the tool that allows change. And the COVID-19 era certainly has led to change for us all.

2020 long will be remembered as one of the most “disruptive” years in modern history. In the future, we will look back to this year as a time of first-order change – real change that makes a difference. Real change is not transitory – genuine change is sustained.

We are at a crossroads. How we leverage the disruptions we experience will define this era while we prepare for the next. It also will define our institutions  including a re-defining of our University – and we need  to reflect and to act. Our personal reflections and actions must both identify and define our own personal civic responsibility – for me, it is that I choose to care.

I encourage you, as Mason begins a fall semester unlike any other, to re-commit to caring for who and what are truly important. As we do, I ask that you set a goal to care for each other, our students and the University. As a result, let us all grow, be better and thrive during this unprecedented moment in time.

Caring is today’s civic responsibility – make it yours.

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