I have recently listened in on two extraordinary teachers at Pepperdine—Dennis Torres and Tom Shadyac. Dennis teaches a business ethics course to graduate students, and Tom teaches an undergraduate course. Although they come from different backgrounds, their message is almost identical—never fail to question what people tell you, have a passion for whatever you do, and understand consumption will ultimately not bring you happiness.
Dennis fought in Vietnam and later spent time surviving in the Amazon jungle. After returning to the States, he went to law school and ultimately became financially independent through real estate investments before becoming an accomplished mediator.
He teaches his students by sharing life experiences. He is a rich source of wisdom. He challenges his students to think analytically and in a society that worships the almighty dollar, Dennis is not afraid to challenge the shallowness of many of today’s contemporary values. He encourages students to meditate, to appreciate what they already have, and not always to seek more.
Tom was a very successful Hollywood producer, director and screen writer before he realized all the fame and fortune did not leave him fulfilled. He downsized by selling his 17,000 square foot mansion and moved into a trailer camp here in Malibu.
When Tom suffered a serious bike accident he had a kind of epiphany. He finally understood that giving was more gratifying than receiving.
He affectionately refers to his very popular course as “disorienting” because he wants his students to rethink everything they have been taught. He shows the movie “Gandhi,” and talks about fasting and a spiritual life style.
Both Dennis and Tom although from different generations and fields of endeavor came to the same conclusion that a life of accumulating material goods left them ungratified, and both have found greater satisfaction by giving to others. Their teaching at Pepperdine is one of their greatest gifts.