Perspectives, news, and announcements from the Center that will ignite your passion for wellbeing.

Human Flourishing: If Not Now, When?

May 4, 2015

There is a lot that gets in the way of human flourishing. In the world today, we face such seemingly unsolvable problems including poverty, climate change, food security, clean water, and violence, to name just a few. These profound challenges are not unrelated. Lack of education contributes to unemployment, which in turn, contributes to poverty. In communities where there is poverty and a lack of jobs, there is also a higher rate of crime and violence. In the United States, we have “failing schools” where children are graduating without the skills to advance in education or be successful in life. While it is easy to point the finger at teachers, in fact, it is much more complicated. Assuring teacher competency is of course critical, but it is also essential to look at the social and environmental factors impacting a child’s ability to learn. We must also examine the lack of funding and resources that contribute to learning delays. Whole systems thinking is critical for addressing the complex social problems we face today.

In his recent State of the University address, President Kaler spoke about the role of the University of Minnesota in addressing the grand challenges that our society is facing. Our University is unique, he noted, in our capacity to bring together leading experts across disciplines that can help identify solutions, and infuse this interdisciplinary approach through the curriculum and in public engagement. To date, grand challenges being discussed include climate change, food security, world hunger, and disease.

In addition to these important challenges, I would like to see the University address the issue of human flourishing. When you think about it, what greater challenge is there? How do we create the conditions that enable people to attain high levels of wellbeing in their lives? What needs to happen in schools and neighborhoods so that kids flourish and attain their full potential? What economic systems are most effective in creating opportunities and reducing inequities? What needs to happen in our workplaces so that in addition to producing outcomes needed from a business perspective, they also contribute purpose and meaning in the lives of the people who work there? What design elements are most critical in creating communities and cities that address all aspects of wellbeing? There is not an area of the University that would not be engaged in a grand challenge of this scope!

The Center’s wellbeing initiative is rapidly establishing the foundation for human flourishing work within and beyond the University. In addition to working with the University of Minnesota Office of Human Resources on wellbeing and engagement, the Center is engaged locally and nationally with clinical, corporate, and community-based efforts focused on cultivating wellbeing in our lives, workplaces, and communities. We are working to advance the bold notion that wellbeing and human flourishing should become strategic priorities and policy imperatives. More to come on this in the year ahead. In this issue of the Mandala, I hope you enjoy reading about the many seeds we are planting as we advance this work.


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Mandala is a biannual magazine produced by Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing. It captures the core aspects of the Center: reflection, transformation, spirituality, creation, and the ongoing journey that continues to shape what we are to become.

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