Monday, May 11, 2009

A great commencement address by Dean Dad ...

... except that he never gave it at a 'real' graduation ceremony. He has posted the transcript:

In boom years, I've seen some folks succeed a bit too easily, and draw some falsely flattering conclusions about themselves. It wouldn't matter, I suppose, if it didn't lead to a certain smugness about the failures of others. I've heard it said that success is a terrible teacher; no less a mind than Aristotle suggested that the opposite of a friend is a flatterer. When circumstances conspire to flatter us, it's easy to lose sight of the breaks we've caught. Yes, we help create our own luck, but we do no more than help. You don't choose your parents, or your genes, or your time and place of birth. As hard as you've worked – and you have – others have worked, too, to make this possible for you. Ignoring that is both inaccurate and rude. Assuming that the chain of responsibility stops with you is arrogant and infantile. I've worked hard, but I was also born to educated parents of dominant ethnicity and culture in a world superpower during the age of antibiotics and abundant food. That gave me possibilities not available for a similarly hard worker in most other times and places in human history.

Among those who've been on the underside for too long, I've sometimes seen a fatalism that can curdle into misplaced rage. If nobody around you catches a break, it's easy to assume that the fix is in, that someone, somewhere, is masterminding a scheme to keep you down. Sometimes it's partly true. But jumping to that too quickly can defeat initiative. It can lead to habits that amount to self-sabotage, and to distrust even of the possibility of something better. Among unsubtle minds, it's a short path from that to rage and violence, usually against whomever is close at hand.

Both of these stories we tell ourselves are wrong. The world is far bigger than our puny efforts, as well as those of anybody else. The fatal flaw in both is the same; the idea that the world is organized around you, whether in the form of 'your oyster' or a conspiracy. It isn't. But our culture acts as if it is.