I’m a Boundary Spanner. Are You?

Last Saturday, a LinkedIn connection traveling in the Middle East sent me a delightful email. It started, “Just read some of your essays in your new handbook and it left me wanting to read more. I like your holistic approach to problem solving and living life.”


He followed with comments and questions you may have too. So I decided I’ll answer them here.

An author and journalist, he wrote, “Your background, with a Ph.D in Educational Admin, seems so ‘traditional’ that I was taken by surprise when I discovered that you’re an innovative thinker.”

This surprise is no surprise. Most who’ve survived the credentialing process have been flattened and homogenized beyond recognition. They’re rewarded for becoming “experts” inside a narrowly defined field and only on a specific subject within that limited area. Professional survival depends on pleasing gatekeepers who rigidly define what can be known and said.

In Rethinking Survival, I describe my personal experience of this process. Not pretty. My purpose was to build an accredited School Without Walls that would allow self-responsible students to create career-specific degree programs.

For example, a golfer whose dream was to build a world-class golf course could pick and choose the subjects essential to achieving his goal. Classes on how to run a small business could be combined with architectural courses to engineer golf greens, agricultural courses to maintain them, education classes to teach beginning golfers, and marketing classes to attract new customers.

Another aspect of the School Without Walls solved the dilemma of highly educated graduates entering the job market with zero job experience. A supervised internship program was intended to link students with mentors inside government institutions, non-profit agencies, corporations, hospitals or small businesses. Experienced insiders would be given the opportunity to share valuable experience in return for the assistance of a highly-motivated intern.

I’d come to the idea of building the School Without Walls from personal experience. As a musician, I wasn’t satisfied with training limited to violin technique. I wanted to know everything about everything that goes into music from every point of view.

I wanted to know about the physics of sound vibration and the science of violin making. I needed to know about the history behind composers’ biographies, the literature they read, about psychology and the religions that inspired their music. Eventually, my search included kinesiology and yoga, the fundamental disciplines of movement and breath awareness practiced by musicians in India.

Traditional schools didn’t help much in this quest. Even so-called interdisciplinary studies were timid in their scope. Not to be discouraged, I patched together what I could from every possible source, eventually studying in Europe and India to learn what wasn’t taught in American schools.

So by the time I entered graduate school at the UW-Madison, I’d already traveled far beyond traditional boundaries, both physically and philosophically. I returned fully motivated to earned the degree in Educational Administration which could be used to make the journey easier for others than it had been for me.

Therefore, my answer to his next question probably isn’t what he’d expect. He wrote, “I would think there is a niche for your writings in schools that teach Eastern philosophies and with educational institutions that are progressive thinkers and open to new ways of teaching.”

The main point of The Positive Paradigm Handbook is that the basics are universal. They’re shared in common by everyone, everywhere. They’re not the exclusive property of this or that culture or cult. In fact, the narrowing fragmentation of knowledge into increasingly smaller niches is a dangerous symptom of dark times. In the Handbook, I put it this way:

In a world seemingly intent on fracturing experience into smaller and smaller niches, the Positive Paradigm provides an urgently needed counter-balance, applying an opposite and equal weight in a unifying direction.

The change series answers Einstein’s call: “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.” Those who succeed in returning to the universal basics are most likely to survive whatever dangers are to come.

The Positive Paradigm of Change embodies the Unified Theory which Einstein already had (though didn’t know it). The Handbook’s presentation of the basics is new and appropriate to the times. However, the basics themselves aren’t new. Just neglected. It would be a contradiction in terms to relegate the Positive Paradigm of Change to a niche, nor is the concept “progressive.”

The timeless Unified Theory is universal. Like a laser beam, it illumines the field wherever it’s pointed. The difference today is that modern physics now confirms the same Unified Theory which ancient teachers called yoga (which means “union”).

From this standpoint, the necessary interconnectedness of every field of knowledge is apparent. Hence, in Rethinking Survival, a full chapter is devoted to boundary-spanners as leaders. There’s even a favorite riddle that makes the point. Question: “How does an elephant play bridge?” Answer: “It puts two feet on one side of the river, and two feet on the other.”

In the 1980’s, there was an encouraging trend towards reunifying fragmented bodies of knowledge. For example, a Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at the UW-Madison led by Reid Bryson coordinated the physical sciences related to climate change – geology, oceanography, meteorology, etc. What it didn’t include, however, was social, political, and ethical studies. The interdisciplinary department facilitated coordinated data collection. No thought was given to training decision-makers about making responsible, effective use of that information.

In addition, in Positive Paradigm context, there’s still more. We urgently need to restore leadership training that enables social and physical scientists to link the surface of their daily lives with the deeper levels of human experience. These include the middle level of the Wheel associated with emotional intelligence and functional ethics, the inner level associated with insight and intuition, and the eternal silent center called “conscience.”

In the never-ending School of Life, we are each self-responsible for acquiring this knowledge and putting it into practice as best we can. The Positive Paradigm sums up the basics of what Huxley called the perennial philosophy common to the world’s great religions. The Handbook not only pictures and explains the paradigm, but gives practical methods for implementing it.

Appropriately mainstreamed, it has the potential to tip the scales in favor of human survival. It’s that starkly simple.

I’m a boundary spanner. Are you? If not, let’s give new meaning to the famous warning of a beloved American president: “Take down those walls.”