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Junior Leader Training -- White Stag Leadership Development

Béla H. Bánáthy, Sr., Ed.D.

Professor Emeritus

A Short Story of my Life (This is a non-traditional Vita)

As I look back to the eight decades of my life, it seems that I have moved through several spirals in the course of my life's journey. I describe these spirals and reflect upon them.


I lived the first spiral (1919-1937) in two river cities of the great Hungarian plain. My father was a minister of the Presbyterian Church (the genesis of my Calvinist work ethics). My mother was a teacher. I had four brothers. My view of the world, my core ideas and values were shaped in five contexts: The family, the rich learning environments of schools, church, scouting; and in ever expanding public service contexts. These five contexts became my "mediating institutions." I crafted lenses in these contexts through which to view and understand the world and my place in it. The values, beliefs, and knowledge emerging from these contexts helped me to seek and create a balance between "I-ness" and "We-ness" and autonomy and responsibility. It helped me to understood that my life experiences offer opportunities to being on the road of becoming, continuously renewing myself, and taking responsibility for serving the common good.

Some highlight events during the first cycle include: The many scouting events, particularly the 1933 World Jamboree, where Baden Powell, the chief of the Boy Scout Movement, inspired me by his message of forever seeking and following the ideal. At national conferences of youth leaders we had long conversations with leading writers, poets, and social activists. Their ideas became food for though for life and inspiration for public service. My life experiences during the first cycle established lasting foundations upon which to build my life.


The core ideas and values that emerged in the course of the first cycle led me into and through the second spiral (1937-1945). I was selected to enter the Hungarian Royal Military Academy. The Academy had an all year-around-program in general and military science and the humanities. I was commissioned in 1940 in the armored infantry. In response to an attack of the soviet air force, Hungary entered the war in '41. Our armored division took part in two campaigns. I was wounded in close combat in '42. In '43, I was appointed to the faculty of the Royal Military Academy. During my student years at the Academy, I served on the national leadership development staff of the Scout Movement and in '41, I was asked—as a volunteer—to serve as national staff director. During the last years of this spiral, with other leaders of national youth movements, we created an alliance for socio-cultural renewal, and dreamed of a reconciliation of the nations in the region.

The most significant event of my life—with most lasting importance -- happened in '41, when I made a lifetime commitment of love to Eva. We became married in '42 and by the end of this spiral we had two baby boys in our family. By that time I was prepared to enter the General Staff College.


The first two spirals had a seamless flow in their context and content. We expected the flow will continue. But history decided otherwise.


When the Red Army approached Budapest, we left Hungary and started the third cycle as refuges in Austria (1945-1950.) We lived in a refugee camp of wooden barracks in a room of 8-10 feet which was our living room, bedroom, kitchen and firewood storage. We existed on 600 calories per day per person. Our third son was born in the camp with my assistance. Soon we were moved to another camp, near to a Marshall plan warehouse, where initially I unloaded wheat sacks from railroad cars and later I worked in the statistical office of the warehouse. At the refuge camp, I organized a scout troop and became active in church work. I made contact with refugee relief organizations and the World Bureau of Scouting. These contacts led to a support of our youth programs and the establishment of several scout troops in Austria.

In '47, Eva's sister came out from Hungary and took our two older sons back for recovery with the intent to return them after a year. But in '48, the Iron Curtain was closed down, separating us from our two sons for nine years. Our third and forth sons were was born in refugee camps.

In '48, I was ordained a minister by the World Council of Churches and served as director of religious education of the Protestant Refugee Service of Austria. In '49, with the help of a Swiss foundation we established a boarding school for refugee youth. I served as its director. I was also an editor of a religious youth service and a scout periodical.


The third cycle, it seems that it started as a total change in the contexts of our lives. Still, in the purposeful selection of the content of my life experiences, in the commitment to ideas, and in the search for ideals, there was unbroken continuity.


The fourth spiral (1951-59) started when in January '51, sponsored by the McCormick Theological Seminary of Chicago, we immigrated to the US. We lived in the Seminary. I was working night shifts, feeding the boilers of the Seminary, while studying English from a book. Occasionally, I preached at nearby Hungarian churches. Eva found work in a paper factory and Tibor, our third son, entered school. In June '51, I was invited to join the Hungarian Department of the Army Language School, and we moved to Monterey, California. Soon I became active in scouting and in church work, served as President of a local PTA, and was on the Board of the local Red Cross. Eva, in addition to maintaining our home, which we built in '54, was working in a restaurant, and later in a bank. In '56, I was appointed Department Chair and engaged in an intensive study of linguistics and applied linguistics. By an intervention of the World Council of Churches, our two sons rejoined us in September '56. I was teaching Sunday School for several years, served on the Board of our church, and was Chair of the Leadership Development Committee of the Bay Area Scout Council. About this time, continuing my earlier involvement in leadership development, I studied leadership research literature and started to formulate some new ideas about leadership development for youth. These ideas led to the developed of a program during the next spiral.


The context of our life changed again, but there was continuity in both the content and in commitment. Not only continuity but significant extension of community service and self-development.


The fifth spiral (1959-1969) was marked by several events: (1) I was selected as Dean of a language division of ten departments of the federal language program; (2) Entered a graduate program at San Jose State University; (3) Joined the educational task force of the Society of General Systems Research; (4) Became active in the National Associations of Language Teaching; and (5) Initiated the design of a novel Scout Leadership Development program.

This Spiral provided opportunities for continuing self and professional development, for writing and publishing, as well as engaging in community service. As Dean, I managed ten language departments. I entered UC Berkeley and received my doctorate in '66 in an transdisciplinary program in education, systems theory, and linguistics. During the '60s, I was teaching courses at our local college and at San Jose State University in applied linguistics and systems science. My first book: Instructional Systems was published in '68. The development of the multi-year Scout leadership program continued. By the mid '60s it was adopted by the Boy Scouts of America. The mid '60s, I became Chair of Western Division of the Society for General Systems Research.

This Spiral was a decade of professional development, service to the profession on the national scale, and contribution to public service through the design of leadership development of youth. By the end of this decade the family nest became empty. Our four sons were off to college and established their own families.


While the context of the Fourth Cycle was the community in which we lived, the context of the fifth cycle extended into the national scene. But the content of my life experiences, and the commitment to public service continued.


The sixth spiral (1969-1989) commenced when I was invited to join the Far West R&D Laboratory in Berkeley (later in San Francisco), as their systems expert. During twenty years at the lab, I served as Program Director, Division Director, and Associate Lab Director guiding over 50 R&D projects. The overall program of the lab enabled me to apply systems thinking, systems and design inquiry in large scale educational, social, public service, and government systems; to operate primarily at a national scale.

During the '70, for a year I was visiting prof at UC Berkeley and continued teaching at San Jose State. In '72, DC. Heath published: A Design of Foreign Language Curriculum, and in '73, Lear Singler published Developing a Systems View. During the '70s, I was invited by the scout programs of Mexico, Costa Rice and Venezuela to introduce the leadership development program. In 1982, I was elected Managing Director of the Society of General Systems Research and in 85 became President of the Society. During the '80s I served terms on the Executive Committee of the International Federation of System Research.

The late '70s we established at the Far West Lab the International Systems Institute (ISI). In '82, we initiated the Fuschl Research Conversations in Austria. At the Conversation, representatives of the international systems community focused on the question: How can we apply systems thinking for the improvement of human conditions. Since '82, with the cooperation of the International Federation of Systems Research, we have held over thirty Research Conversations in seven different countries. In '82, the Saybrook Graduate School invited me to develop a Ph.D. program in the systems and design sciences.


During this Spiral I engaged in innovative and cutting edge R&D projects, and extended by public and professional service into the international scene. I also had an opportunity at Saybrook to design and develop a full-fledged graduate educational program in humanistic systems inquiry and social systems design.


My retirement from Far West Lab marked the beginning of the seventh spiral (1989-present). We moved back to the Monterey Peninsula. As Emeritus, I continue working with Ph.D. students at Saybrook, which for me is a most rewarding experience. We continue the annual international systems design conversations. Lately, research and development in human and societal evolution has become the focus of my interest. For the years to come, I intend to devote my work and service to the advancement of conscious evolution.

During this spiral I have written many articles and chapters in books, and have authored several books: The Systems Design of Education (1991); A Systems View of Education (1992); Designing Social Systems in a Changing World (1996); and Guided Societal Design: A Systems View (2000). With Patrick Jenlink we CO-edited Diaologue as a Means of Collective Communication, to be published in '02 by Kluwr Academic/Plenum Publishers. The first two books were published in Korean and Polish. During the 90s, I was elected to two terms as President of the International Federation of Systems Research.

Five years ago, Eva had an emergency back surgery operation and has suffered partial paralysis. I am her caregiver. I say that she took care of me since '42, now it is my role to take care of her. Our family is growing. We have now ten grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.


DMy life journey can be well pictured by imaging it as a movement through seven ascending and widening spirals. The first spiral established the foundation upon which my life was built and experienced in a variety of context. So the story above gives us "identity derived from experience." It is an external view. It may tell "what I am." It does not tell "internal," the "who I am." I am still searching for the "who."

My journey through life has been a continuous involvement in learning and exploring, engaging in research and application of systems and design ideas in a variety of social contexts, creating systems of learning and helping others to learn. I have served in many organizational and institutional settings in three countries: In my homeland, as a refugee in Austria; and in the US since the early '50s. Through eight decades, an unwavering belief in human betterment guided and inspired me. I have joined many others in several mediating institutions in creating resources, opportunities and programs by which people, as well as organizations and communities are enabled to develop and fulfill their individual and collective potentials and become the best they can.

In the course of the last couple of decades, however, I have become increasingly convinced that even if people are to fully develop their potential, they cannot give direction to their lives, they cannot forge their destiny, they cannot take charge of their future -- unless they also develop competence in taking part directly and authentically in the design of their own life, the systems, organizations, and communities in which they live and work. This is what self-empowerment is about.

I am also convinced, that self-empowerment—when learned, lived, and exercised by families, groups, neighborhoods, organizations, communities, and social and societal systems of all kinds—is the only hope we have in order to give direction to our evolution, and to create a society that serves the common good, a society about which all of us can feel good. This kind of empowerment cannot be legislated, it cannot be dictated from above, and it cannot happen by good intentions alone. It can be only attained if we individually and collectively learn to engage in moral conversations by which we collectively define values and qualities we seek to realize, give voice to our aspirations, envision ideal images of the future, and bring those images to life by purposeful design. I hold that this is what democracy is about!

There are three Greek words: "democracy," meaning "the power of the people," "sizitizis" stands for "searching together," and "demoshopia" which means, the 'wisdom of the people." If we integrate these three concepts, we shall understand that: People have the power to make decisions that affect their lives, that these decisions are made by searching together in disciplined and focused conversations, through which they gain individual and collective wisdom.

In an age, when the speed, intensity, and complexity of change and transformations increase constantly and exponentially, the ability to shape change--rather than becoming its victims or its spectators—depends on our competence and willingness to guide the purposeful evolution of our systems, our communities, and our society.

My inspiration to make contribution to Saybrook comes from the belief that the right of people to guide their own destiny, to create authentic, caring, sustainable communities,; to control their resources, to govern themselves, and guide their own evolution is the most fundamental human right. If people are enabled to exercise this right by learning how to do it—they will have the power to create a civil society that is motivated by voluntary commitment to organize its life for the service of the common good and for creating harmony in the society and in the community of all life.

B.A. Science (1940)
Hungarian Royal Academy

M.A. Counseling Psychology (1964)
California State University, San Jose

Ed.D. Education (1966)
University of California, Berkeley