June 16, 2007

Go Forth & Edify

I graduated from a couple of places - namely, Central High School and McMaster University - but I didn't attend any graduation exercises. This peeved my mom, but I just wasn't much for pomp and circumstance. I didn't really know what 'pomp' was for, other than wearing uncomfortable shoes and having photos taken with kids you'd never see again. And the 'circumstance' really wasn't all that remarkable - I'd had a comfy upbringing by parents who loved me - my only job was to go to school and not screw up.

When I hear of speeches given by famous people to graduating classes - people like Oprah, Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby - I wonder what they talk about. I mean, if they're standing up there, they presumably did something right, but they're talking to hundreds of kids who probably won't be standing up there one day - and know it. I would hope they extol the virtue of changing their world, if not the whole world. That's something everyone can do. And should try to do.

If I was a graduate, I'd prefer some humour, and some acknowledgment that the littered, hard-carved path is the most rewarding, and not to freak out if you flunk something, or lose your way. A good friend of mine is constantly telling me to live just outside my comfort zone. It's great advice. I try to follow it. And I generally pull those around me into that discomfort zone so I have ample company.

The Star today excerpts some grad speeches, and one, by John de Chastelain who used to head Canada's military, is a beaut. I wouldn't expect a military guy would resonate so much with me, but he did. He quotes Carl von Clausewitz about how to be wary of people, and how to spot trouble before it happens. The reference ends with the warning to be especially careful of the Stupid & Energetic. Read the link for the whole thing. It's worth it.

Clausewitz was a Prussian military strategist a hundred and fifty years ago, and while he is usually interpreted as something of a war-monger (well, partly because it's hard to interpret him any other way) the bit that de Chastelain references is quite brilliantly applied across most of life.

I told my son the other day that every single group he will ever be a part of will be a variation of the same dynamic. High school, workplace, families, cities, countries, everything - you will have leaders, sycophants, workers, lazy-arses, planners, doers, whiners, martyrs, heroes and villians. I told him to decide which he is, and get ready to deal with the rest of them.

Of course, he's still in bed, so I'm hoping he hasn't signed up for 'lazy-arse'.


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