Thanks for indulging me!

Patience is a virtue. Luckily for you, I am not very virtuous.

I am feeling impatient today. I want this darn committee meeting to be over with. I want to be done fighting with statistical programs, MS Word, Excel, and Power Point. Please, make the insanity stop!

And because I am feeling impatient I am going to bombard you with Chuck Yates' numbers 5 through 1. To those of you that were hoping to savor it over the next five days, sorry. Just settle in with a cup of coffee, or whatever your caffinated beverage of choice is, and prepare yourselves for the longest. post. ever. Sorry again for that.

Number 5 through 1


Number Five: Remember that other people want you to take them just as seriously as you want them to take you. If you’re not willing to do that much for them, it’s gonna be hard for you to convince them that they should do it for you. If you don’t understand your opponent’s position well enough to make your own persuasive defense of it, at a minimum that probably means you haven’t been paying attention, but it’s also likely that you can’t defend your own position either, at least not in a way that would persuade someone who is paying attention.

It’s true: there are a lot of positions on the other side that’re really hard to take seriously. Some of ‘em are based on arguments, and actually do make sense on their own terms, but a lot of ‘em are just plain prejudice or thoughtlessness trying to look like they make sense. And when that’s the case, it’s usually not all that difficult to figure it out.

But to do that, you have to take that other position on its own terms, and understand it in the way
it makes sense to the person who believes it. Bigotry and bad faith will betray themselves through their own garbled logic, every time. All you have to do is invite them to make sense on their own terms.

The thing is, people generally mean well. People generally don’t wake up one morning and say, “I think I’ll go out and do something monstrous today.” People’s motives tend to be noble, but the actions that arise from those motives are sometimes monstrous.

When what we do is 180 out from what we think, that’s usually because we don’t understand
why we think what we think. And just as we must understand the link between the what and the why in our own behavior, so must we also look for that link in the behavior of others, especially those we disagree with.

There’s no self-evident obligation to take sophistry or hypocrisy seriously, but for the sake of our own integrity we need to make sure it is sophistry or hypocrisy before we reject it. Want your opponent to honor your sincerity? Start by honoring his.

Number Four: Take care of yourself. Hold it in your heart that taking care of yourself is not the same thing as being selfish. If you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll be useless to yourself, and then you’ll be useless to other people too. Put your own oxygen mask on first, as they say on the airplane. Treasure yourself, and treat yourself as if you’re irreplaceable. You are.

Back in the counter-culture, we used to go around telling each other to “keep the faith,” and “tell
it like it is.” Do that. Keep faith with yourself, keep faith with others, and be honest, not just about what you think, but also about how you feel — especially about how you feel. Emotional honesty is the most important kind of all. And it’s one of the best ways I know of to take care of yourself.

And there’s this one other thing that’s absolutely essential if you want to do your best job of
taking care of yourself: nev-ver take yourself too seriously. Be serious about your work. By all means be serious about your play. But don’t be too serious about yourself. Don’t worry. It’s not that difficult to tell when you are. Don LaFontaine will make sure you know. (Some of you may know that we lost Don last year. Not a huge tragedy, in world-historical terms, but I’ll miss him. Moment of silence for Don LaFontaine.)

What — you think you don’t know who I’m talking about? Of course you do: “They went to college to improve their minds. They didn’t know what was waiting for them beyond commencement. Based on a true story.” Yeah, you know who I mean. Sometimes Don’s voice-overs made the trailers even better than the flick. Now they’ve got all those other guys out there trying to sound like Don, but they can’t do it the way he could, and here’s why that matters.

If you start hearing Don LaFontaine voice-overs in your own life, that’s your cue to get up, walk
out of the theater, stand in the sunlight, count to ten, and then start looking for a different movie. One thing we all know is that movies with Don LaFontaine voice-overs usually don’t have happy endings. So if you’re in one of those movies, you’re taking yourself way too seriously and you need to lighten up. Don will let you know.

And one other thing: make a point, at least once a year, to go out to the woods and spend some time living life at the speed of trees.

Number Three: Remember that most of the time, most of it isn’t going to make much sense to you. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense. Most of us spend a lot of time and energy trying to make the math come out even. The trouble
is, the only place where the math comes out even is in math. That’s the only place where you can count on one and one to make two. Out here in the 3-D world, one and one sometimes make one. Sometimes they make three. Or four, or five, or you name it.

Sometimes one and one make zero. That’s what happened in Rwanda. That’s what happened in what we used to call Yugoslavia. That’s what’s happening right now in Palestine. Places like those, nobody wins, and everybody loses, and the math never comes out even, and one and one always make zero.

What works best for me is to let the math come out however it comes out, and then try to figure out what I’m gonna do about that. If I refuse to deal with math unless it comes out even, I’ve already ruled out a lot of alternative courses of action that might actually get me somewhere. My wife Deb, the best teacher on the planet, who taught me most of the good stuff I know about teaching, used to have a poster in her classroom that said simply, “You can’t control which way the wind blows, but
you can adjust your sails.”

The fact is, all we’re ever likely to get from expecting everything to make perfect sense to us is a lot of disappointment, confusion, and frustration. Better just let go of that. Let the math do what it does, and do your best to work with what you get. A poet named Max Ehrmann once put it like this: “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” (16)

In other words, be modest about the limits of your knowledge, your understanding, your agency.
Focus on the business you have in hand, start by taking it as you find it, and do your best to make sense of that. The rest will take care of itself.

Number Two: Keep your scriptures handy. We all need scriptures. We all have ‘em, even if some
of ‘em don’t look like what most people think of when they think of scriptures. What’s good about scriptures is that they put us in touch with the wisdom of others who’ve gone a lot farther down the road than we have, people who know where the pot holes are. And the short cuts. And the rest areas.

Among the scriptures I keep handy are the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, the marvelous mysteries of Daoism, the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount, Robert Fulghum’s little masterpiece, “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” (17) and the lyrics to a whole boatload of songs that have helped me make sense of the senselessness over the years.

The scripture I rely on most frequently is very simple, and goes like this: “God, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” (18) Serenity, courage, wisdom. Things I can change, things I can’t. What does that include?

Well, I can change my clothes. I can change channels. I can change my mind. As some of you know, I can change my major... lotsa times. But the only thing I know I can change, that will make a real difference in how I interact with the world around me, is my attitude, and for that, I’ll take all the help I can get.

The point is that scriptures — or prayers, if you like — don’t act on the world around us. They’re not magic. They act on us to help us interact with the world more effectively. That’s where their power comes from. They keep us in focus. They help us remember what we believe. There’s a nice explanation of this in one of the episodes of Joss Whedon’s Firefly series: River Tam is complaining to Shepherd Book that his Bible doesn’t make any sense. Shepherd Book says, “It’s not about making sense. It’s about believing in something and letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It’s about faith. You don’t fix faith, River. It fixes you.” (19)

So keep your scriptures handy. They’ll help you stay in touch with your faith, and your faith is the bridge that reaches from inside your most private places to connect you with the wide world of possibility all around you. Not just your faith in god (though I’m sure that’s where it’s at for many of you) but your faith in the possible — your ability to believe that even the impossible can happen — and your ability to let yourself and your world be transformed by that belief.

Ask Mahatma. Ask Martin. Ask Barack. They’ll tell you how important this kind of faith is.

Three things, Paul told the Corinthians, there are three things that last forever, and this faith I’m talking about is the first one. The second one is hope, that “active pursuit of the not yet,” that “celebratory defiance of despair” that we heard about from the man who stood up here last year. (20) (Thanks, James, for covering that so nicely.)

And the third one is love. They work together — faith, hope, and love — each one woven through the other two into a fabric that never tears, never wears out, and always gives warmth and shelter. That’s guaranteed, right here in the warranty — as long as you keep all three together in a single fabric, and put it on for the first time every day.

But love, Paul said, love is the main thing, the biggest of all the big deals.

And that’s why this top ten list ends where it does.

Number One: Love. We’re here to take care of each other, and love is the energy that makes it possible for us to do that. So here I am, telling you to love. Love yourselves. Love each other. Love this magical mysterious heart-breaker of a world we live in. Love it for what it can become. But love it for what it is too.

If you choose love, you create a center of gravity for yourself that will help you stay balanced no matter what happens. You create a sacred place at the core of your being, a place where there will always be holiness. They’re always telling us god is love, right? This is part of what they mean. And this is what I mean when I say love is god.

The ability to choose love is what sets us apart from all the other critters. Sure, it matters that we walk upright, that we have these amazing opposable thumbs, this really cool stereoscopic vision, this massive brain. And we can talk, and write, and sing, and even deliver baccalaureate messages.

But what really matters is that we have the ability to choose love. And I do — choose love. I love every last one of you. Oh, yeah, I know — you don’t see how I can mean that, because you know I’m no good with names. I warned you about that on the first day of class, remember? Before long, I’ll start forgetting your names, one by one. Give me enough time and I may forget ‘em all. But I also
told you then — and I hope you remember this part too — I will never forget you. You’ll be right here in my heart, and right here in my head, for as long as there’s life in this body.

So, Paul told the Corinthians that love is the main thing, the biggest of all the big deals. John,
Paul, George, and Ringo took it one step further. They told all of us it’s not just the main thing; it’s the only thing. It’s all we need. You know how it goes:

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game. It’s easy.
There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known.
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown.
Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be. It’s easy.
(OK, this is the part where you help me out...)
All you need is love. All you need is love. All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need. (21)

You knew that was coming sooner or later, right? You didn’t actually think you could ask someone from my generation to stand up here and give this message without quoting those guys at least once, did you?

So there it is — there’s your Top Ten List for today. If you were paying attention, you figured
out pretty quickly that it’s got more than ten things on it, and I just made it look like a top ten list by jamming some of ‘em together. There’ll always be more than ten good things to put on a top ten list.

You know, stuff like: pay attention; never let injustice go unchallenged, but remember it’s a
long drop from the moral high ground, and a mighty hard landing if you fall; bake cookies, and eat ‘em with milk; never stop learning; always make time to goof off; step to the beat of your own drummer,(22) but be careful not to march through someone else’s parade; start over every day. Stuff like that. And, oh, yeah, make top ten lists.

Of course, your list will be different from mine. It’ll have different stuff on it, and you’ll rank
that stuff differently. But on my list, love is always gonna be number one. Everything else unfolds from it. Everything else, sooner or later, leads back to it. Keep it in the same safe place where you keep that critical self-awareness I talked about back there, and don’t leave home without it.

Now, as you all know already, this afternoon you’re gonna line up over here and walk across this
stage one by one, and Greg is gonna holler out your names, and Doug is gonna give each one of you your official Got ‘Er Done Certificate. What you may not know yet is that the whole world is waiting for you right there. Right there.

So here’s what I want you to do, when you encounter the world out there: I want you to walk
right up to it, put your arms around it, kiss it on the mouth, and tell it Earlham sent you.

Class of 2009, it’s time to rock and roll.

16. Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, 1926, At
17. Robert Fulghum, All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, New York: Ivy Books, 1989.
18. Attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr,
19. Ben Edlund, Firefly: Jaynestown, Air date: 10/18/2002.
20. James Logan, “A (Not So) Simple Word of (Audacious) Hope,” Baccalaureate Address, Earlham College, May 3, 2008, 6, 9.
21. John Lennon, All You Need Is Love, Northern Songs, Ltd., BMI, 1967.
22. Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or Life in the Woods, New York: Signet, 1999, 258.

The address, in its entirety, can be found here.


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