When I mention to people that I believe schools need to work to make their graduates more enterprising, I get two very different reactions: wrinkled noses or “hell yes!”
For half of my barely random sample, the word “enterprising” connotes greed, the worst of capitalism, the valuing of profit above all else. The other half of my sample, usually business people, say, “Of course we want our young people to be enterprising.” They don’t hold negative connotations of the word, apprehending instead its more positive associations, which reinforce their values.
Merriam-Webster provides what I believe are more precise definitions of the word enterprising: “marked by an independent energetic spirit and by readiness to act,” and, “bold and energetic in trying or experimenting.”
It occurs to me that the polarized reactions I receive when using this word are characteristic of the deep divisions in this 21st century America. People seeing the exact same word apply starkly contrasting meanings to it.
So I want to reclaim “enterprising” and restore its original meaning, to free it of the political baggage of our day so that young people, whose well being depends on having an independent energetic spirit and readiness to act, can get on with their experimenting.
Our future depends on it.
I must confess that leading a school in a time of political turmoil and unpredictability isn’t easy. Headlines splash over the gunnels of my desk almost every day, making each step slippery. Making sense of them all takes a lot of work because I am doing so both for myself and for others.
And yet, when I step away from my screens and just spend time with students, I see something refreshing and surprising: they are paying attention but are also focused on their lives further down the road. Many of them are looking past the next four years, past electoral politics in general, and seeking to connect with other people, to build a life of goodness, and to simply understand themselves.
We all should be so lucky.