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Archive for Wednesday, December 28, 2005

New year spurs reflection

December 28, 2005

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The last week of December is a special time. It is a time of transition between the old year and the new. It is a time for reflection upon the past year and hope for the new one to come. In college towns like ours it is also a quiet time when the university is not in session and the streets are not so crowded with students. It is a peaceful time when one can gather one's thoughts.

Traditionally, it is also a time for resolutions about the next year, of hope and commitment to making the next year better than the last. In that spirit I hereby offer my resolutions and hopes for the coming year.

For the world, I hope as always for an end to poverty, starvation, disease, war and catastrophe. The past year has seen far too much of all of these. And though I know that millions of people have this same wish, I also know that it is not one that is likely to come true. But everything each of us can do to make it happen is worth the effort. The author bell hooks once remarked that progress is not made in giant global leaps, but, instead, it comes, if at all, in small, baby steps. So for next year my hope is that the world may make some "small, baby steps" towards these goals .

On the national and state level, I hope that we shall find a way to speak to each other and listen to each other and try to understand and work with each other. Our nation was built upon both discord and discourse. Our government is one that depends upon dialogue. When that dialogue stops, freedom is lost.

It seems as though partisanship has become the rule and that the national unity we all felt in the aftermath of 9-11 was but a temporary chimera. This country faces real crises and dangers in the coming months. The war in Iraq is devouring our military and our economy but there is no easy exit without leaving chaos in our wake.

The gap between rich and poor in this country seems to grow greater each year to the point where it seems as though the "American dream" will remain just that for millions: only a dream and never a reality. Religious discord is splitting our nation in ways not seen for more than a century. These are all critical problems that must be addressed. But we cannot even begin to solve them as a nation if we cannot relearn how to talk to each other and to work together for the common good.

For our local community I hope that we can find a way to face the future productively. We who live here in Douglas County are immensely fortunate. Most of us can say that this is a good place to live. But we also need to work together to make sure that the future of our community is as good as its past. We need to find a way to deal with growth, for it is inevitable. We need to bridge the gap between the political factions and recognize that we all have something precious here, something worth preserving.

For the university I hope for clarity of thought and steadfastness of commitment. We must never lose sight of the purposes for which we exist. Our mission is crucial to our state and nation. We are educators and researchers. We push forward the boundaries of knowledge. We teach future generations all that past generations have learned.

We serve our community by sharing the fruits of our teaching and learning. But we must always remember not to confuse process and goals. How many research dollars we attract is not a goal, it is simply a step on the road to the goal of doing world-transforming research. Writing a book is not a goal; writing a book that teaches others and makes light what was once dark is a goal. And we must set goals for ourselves that seem unreachable. Why shouldn't scientists at KU find a new cure for cancer or a way to save the environment? We will never know unless we try.

As for me, I resolve to do all that I can to live my life not just for myself but for others. I resolve to try to find wisdom as well as knowledge and use it for good purposes.

May you all have a very happy new year.

Mike Hoeflich, a professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.

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