One’s purpose in life emerges from personal ambition and social circumstances. Embarking on higher education is illustrative of an opportunity to work towards realizing a fruitful purpose. Realizing the value of a purpose that builds on higher education however hinges on whether one meets the challenge of aligning one’s individual purpose to the general purpose of higher education. This short presentation is about this challenge and the implications for one’s frame of mind.
An Individual Purpose is an overarching and enduring sense of what really matters in a person’s life. It provides meaning to one’s life and creates an understanding of how valuable one’s contribution to life is.
A child will not have an individual purpose, but an adult is expected to engage with perceptions of what his future would be like. During the first phase of his adult life these perceptions play on his fantasies. However, they evolve over time and mature due to experiencing a ‘state of being’ and a ‘process of becoming’. In the process of becoming, the adult learns balancing the tension between ‘dreams’ and ‘realities’.
One’s life purpose should be overarching and significant. This means that it not just bears on day- to- day plans and activities but that it also inspires major aspects of life like the choice of a partner, the selection of a profession and support for a political idea. Its significance also suggests that its accomplishment is not just a matter of luck but to the contrary. It implies that one should unleash one’s full potential which unescapably causes strain and requires persistence. A real-life purpose should be enduring, not erratic or fixed. Enduring means that it should be dynamic in the sense that it will be subject to revisions prompted by an enriched comprehension, changed perceptions and new realities. And finally, one’s Individual Purpose should steer more than personal destiny. It should also furnish the framework for understanding and assessing the value of the contributions one makes to society. In short, Individual Purpose underpins the choices one makes and provides direction to one’s life.
The Purpose of Higher Education is to conduct a process that results in enlightment and empowerment in order that participants achieve a better- and high-quality life (‘a higher social status’), internalize high professional standards and become committed to contribute to a prosperous and just society.
As a process of enlightment, Higher Education is inspired by the ideas of ‘self-command’ and ‘cultivated humanity’ (‘learning for the enrichment of life’). It promotes reason and experience as the critical sources of human activity, and it is embedded with the ideal of advancement and progress. Enlightment is essentially the situation in which one can think for himself about what a better future implies and entails.
Empowerment as a characteristic of Higher Education, vests a high degree of autonomy and self-determination in people. It enables them to represent their interest in a responsible and self-determined way, acting on their own authority. It is the process of becoming stronger and more confident especially in controlling one’s life.
These two aspects of Higher Education – enlightment and empowerment – relate to preparation for a career and achieving the intellectual skills and social status of those in the educated segment of society. But this status in the pursuit of cultivating humanity, adds a third aspect to the purpose of Higher Education and that is a responsibility for democratic praxis. Higher Education not only educates an individual knowledge, skills and dispositions for acting democratically but it also addresses the quality of human interaction by maintaining an educational environment that encourages students to think for themselves, respond in their own unique ways to learning opportunities and respect a similar approach from others.
From Purpose to Impact: Those who strive to become higher educated should make sure that the Purpose of Higher Education and their Individual Purpose are aligned. I would argue that a supportive frame of mind to achieve such alignment and lead to a transformation of purpose into impact should include three specific individual dispositions.
The first is to be self- disciplined. Self-discipline is a premise of ambition and a condition for accomplishment of an Individual Purpose and in a broader perspective also of the Mission of Higher Education. It is the ability to push oneself forward, stay motivated, and take action regardless of how one is feeling, physically and emotionally. It is crucial for the pursuit of purpose in spite of obstacles.
The second disposition is Critical Thinking: Critical Thinking is disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded and informed by evidence. It is the key component of a process of analysis and evaluation aimed at reaching a rationally based judgement for the solution of a problem. It includes a commitment to using reason in the formulation of beliefs.
The third disposition is Acting Democratically. Acting democratically in our world of plurality and difference is as much about doing and saying and ‘bringing oneself into the world’, as it is about listening and waiting, creating spaces for others and thus creating opportunities for others to be respected democratic persons.
Dr. Hans Lim A Po