David Hoffman is UMBC’s Assistant Director of Student Life for Civic Agency.
[Cross-posted on Co-Create UMBC]
We were sitting in a circle, just inside the tree line in the woods behind UMBC’s Albin O. Kuhn Library, when Cazzy made the point that got me thinking. The group had spent the morning raking, mulching and building planting beds in The Garden as part of UMBC’s Welcome Week Service Project. After we had gathered for lunch, Jack Neumeier, a senior who is President of The Garden, had explained that the project was partly about doing real work to address food issues, but also about enabling people to discover how their special talents and passions could be blended with others’ to build community and shape our world.
Reflecting on the events of the morning, Cazzy, a freshman, shared that she had been taken by the fact that the project was so obviously unfinished. Jack and The Garden’s other leaders had encouraged her to make creative contributions and help to envision The Garden’s future, not merely to play an assigned role. The recognition that she could contribute something truly her own, and be a part of making something real, public and lasting, had her feeling inspired.
When people talk about the memories they treasure most, or the careers they crave, they often focus on opportunities to contribute meaningfully to the creation of things not yet complete: to truly matter. But the feeling of actually doing so is all too rare. More often we see our circumstances and our institutions (schools, workplaces, government) as given: Things are the way they are, and our role is to embrace the good and accommodate (and complain about) the inevitable problems an imperfections.
The genius of The Garden is that its leaders embrace its incompleteness as a way of summoning the talents and passions of its potential builders. As I sat in the lunch circle, I thought about how powerful we all could be if we learned to recognize nearly every aspect of the world beyond The Garden as equally unfinished: summoning our talents and passions, our whole selves, to the work of building.
Contact the author, David Hoffman, at email@example.com.