Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Just read an excellent Op-Ed by David Brooks in the New York Times (It's Not About You). Brooks is writing about college commencement addresses. Graduating classes in colleges across North America are listening at this time of year to speeches delivered mostly by successful Baby Boomers, telling them how to succeed in life, and as Brooks says, these speeches pretty much sum up the whole baby boomer theology:
"Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture."
What Brooks says about that message just rings so true to me. He points out that for a 20/22-year-old the sequence is wrong, one doesn't form a sense of one's self and then go out and create a life around that self-image. For most people one's sense of oneself grows out of life experience not the other way around. There are a few folks who emerge from their education with a fully formed idea of what they want to do in life, but for most they emerge like prisoners from jail: just happy to be out and wondering what to do next.

There are all sorts of messages out there on how to be happy by living in the moment, meditating to find a peaceful centre to alleviate stress and find a solid happy core from which to operate in life. One is exhorted to stop worrying and planning and doing and just Be Here Now. Laudable, but I think misguided.

I think that Being Here Now is something that happens naturally as one ages, one gets to that point through life experience and aging anyway. I don't think it is something that one ought to pursue deliberately right from the get-go. Perhaps the business of young life is to be out there doing stuff and experiencing life, not blissing out. One lesson one learns from experience is that finding inner peace is not really something that can be taught, you have to get there from inner turmoil. Inner turmoil comes pretty naturally, usually from outer turmoil.

David Brooks appears to be saying something similar. You get to wisdom through experience, and experience is usually hard-won dealing with life's tasks and problems as they come up. How one copes with a crappy dead-end job and a mean stupid boss might just be a source of great wisdom later in life; the perfect job in the chosen field of one's dreams isn't necessarily the best outcome in life, nor the one where one makes the greatest contribution to one's community, family or society.

In addition he suggests that what our culture needs most now is not a whole lot of young people out there finding themselves, but losing themselves. That self-centredness is pretty much a core value that has run its course, maybe we need a little less of it. How to suppress one's self might be a greater life skill than how to express one's self.

Of course, most college grads are going to learn that anyway, life has a tendency to do that to a person. I think that self-fulfillment often comes up from behind, you don't get there by pursuing it directly.


Rain Trueax said...

Interesting thoughts. My granddaughter graduates from grade school to middle school this year which is not the big step that getting out of college will be but is a change and her brother, who will still be in grade school is less than pleased that she won't be there for him. So goes life.

Wisewebwoman said...

The only way to survival rooted in community. the old ways as some still call it.
We're on an irreversible course if this doesn't happen soon...