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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Most famous Shunryu Suzuki line

Beginner's Mind letter to incoming college students at the start of a new school year from James Valentini, known as Deantini, chemistry professor and Dean of Columbia College (of Columbia University) in NYC - originally mistakenly sited as College in Columbia, Missouri. - thanks Rick Levine for the heads up.

Today's question: which one in the photo is Deantini?

Welcome back to campus!
At Convocation last week I spoke about "Beginner's Mind," a way of engaging the world with eyes and mind wide open, as if we were seeing everything for the very first time, without preconceptions that constrain or assumptions that misdirect our thinking.
Why does that matter so much?  As Shunryu Suzuki said in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind “In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”  This way of thinking expands the possibilities that our minds can envision. It warns us that the “expertness” that our experiences have produced can limit our perceptions, our judgments, our understandings, our imaginations.
That I spoke about this at Convocation might make you think that I did so because Convocation is an assembly for our new students, who by definition are Columbia “beginners.”  But that is not the reason.  In fact, I emphasize the importance of Beginner's Mind for everyone.  The first lecture in all my chemistry classes describes Beginner's Mind as the most important thinking in science; it is what drives scientific curiosity.  And it is really the essence of the Core Curriculum — learning to question and analyze what we know and how we know it, what we believe and why we believe it, to imagine new knowledge and entertain new beliefs.
But Beginner's Mind is not just for propelling our academic work; it is also important in guiding our interactions with one another.  It means putting aside our immediate reactions, automatic interpretations and reflexive assessments of people we meet, and instead engaging them with interest and curiosity, acknowledging them as unique and special individuals, wanting to know more about them. That is how each of you can most profit from the diversity of perspectives, ideas and understanding that you encounter among your classmates.
Beginner's Mind helps us develop other habits that will profit us:  humility and empathy in particular. Beginner's Mind warns us that though we might be entirely convinced of something, we recognize nonetheless that it is possible that we are wrong, which is the essence of humility.  Beginner's Mind helps us imagine the possibility of being in someone else's shoes, which is the fundamental expression of empathy.  These are characteristics that are essential to all of us in the College being a community, for they emphasize the unique and individual value that every one of us has.
This is easy to get started on, actually.  Try this and see:  Go over to someone — a recent acquaintance, a friend, even a long-time friend — and ask them for a fun fact about themselves.  Something unexpected, something distinctive, something human, something humble, something to empathize with.  Something that would spark your curiosity about them as an individual.  Something that would lead you to say, “Hmm, I wonder why you told me that?” It is a good conversation starter.  It is also a good life starter. 
Here's what I might say if you asked me for a fun fact today:  I failed my driver's license road test.  Twice.
I hope you are having a great start to the  academic year, a year filled with new explorations enhanced by your Beginner’s Mind. I look forward to seeing you throughout campus. 

Roar, Lion(s), Roar! 

James J. Valentini 
Dean  of Columbia College and 
Vice President for Undergraduate Education
Beginner's Mind lecture page with versions including of course the original version of that quote: In beginner's mind we have many possibilities, but in expert mind there is not much possibility.
This is lecture 65-11-11 on - Here's the page for it

Thanks Nathan and Rick Levine and David Silva