Oxford University is a glorious oxymoron: an historic icon of radical forward thinking.
This week I’m in the UK exploring my Seven Fs. The first part of the trip is visiting family in Oxford then off to a golfing pilgrimage to St. Andrews, Scotland.
My niece and nephew are raising a handsome family in Oxford, and they adore drop-in visits from Americans. With walking tours, sightseeing, and deep conversations we blended our faith, family, finances, fitness, friends, fun and future!
What sticks with me today is how British history is so fascinating and mind stretching. In the USA most things beyond 50 years are labeled “old.” Immersed in British history I’m feeling quite young. Cheerio!
Oxford is old. Teachings date back nearly 1000 years ago to 1096. The first of the 38 colleges was established in the 13th century. My nephew Brian Smith is a tenured Professor of Physics at the Keble College. He is directing quantum optics research to create new light sources. The three hundred year old walls of his laboratory house world-class laser equipment like something out of Star Trek. He embraces the ambiguous notion that his ideas may not directly benefit society for a hundred years. That’s forward thinking.
Feeling small creates big thinking
“Professor Smith” treated me to rare and ceremonial luncheon with the Keble College Senior Faculty. I felt small seated next to Lisa Bendall, a highly distinguished American scientist who is one of the Proctors of Oxford University. (I didn’t have the heart to tell her I barely passed natural sciences in college.)
The faculty I met were not at all stuffy…they were pleasant and happy!
“Professor Smith” and I topped off the day with a pint of ale at the legendary Turf Tavern, an Oxford pub built in the 1300s. Like seven hundred years of professors, students and tourists before us, we sipped our way into a deep philosophical moment.
“Do you suppose the magic of Oxford comes from how students and faculty feel humble in the context of what the University has done for the world?” I asked.
“Yes,” replied Professor Smith. “And I think the biggest thinking comes from how we feel small in the context of a thousand years of history. You have to think big to make an impact around here!” he emphasized with a sneaky grin.
Good leaders absorb wisdom and inspiration when visiting iconic institutions like Oxford University. And they thrive by using the humility of history to think really big about the future.
We didn’t inhale…
Please share with me: what makes you feel humble and small?