Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, stepped on the podium at Princeton in 2010, twenty-four years after his own graduation with a degree in computer science in 1986, to address the graduating class about —
The difference between cleverness and kindness:
What I want to talk to you about today is the difference between gifts and choices.
Cleverness is a gift; kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy — they’re given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.
Tomorrow, in a very real sense, your life — the life you author from scratch on your own — begins.
How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?
Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?
Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?
Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?
Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?
Will you bluff it out when you’re wrong, or will you apologize?
Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?
Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?
When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?
Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?
Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?
Jeff compels us to seriously reconsider carving out our own fate by re-writing a great story for ourselves:
I will hazard a prediction. When you are 80 years old and in a quiet moment, a reflection narrating for only yourself — the most personal version of your life story — the telling that will be the most compact and meaningful —will be the series of choices that you’ve made. In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story.
A clip of Jeff Bezos delivering graduation speech at Princeton University in 2010.
A glimpse of “Do what you love, love what you do” mental construct.
In 2001, sci-fi author Ray Bradbury walks to the podium and regales his readers with anecdotes from his life, further giving valuable writing advice in TELLING THE TRUTH, his remarkable keynote address at the Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea. His keynote brims invaluable wisdom particular reflecting on ‘why you should write’.
What catches my attention, though it’s not technically a commencement speech, are a few words of clarity from within this one-hour long session, which has a universal edge, and hence, goes beyond the vocation of writing onto all sorts of things we call work. In inference, his advice on writing manages to bring insight on ‘doing what we love to do’ and ‘how we should perceive and treat our work’. I have hand-picked those particular lines from there that seem to hold an understanding of universal significance:
On writing what you love:
I want your loves to be multiple. I don’t want you to be a snob about anything. Anything you love, you do it. It’s got to be with a great sense of fun. Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun with it. Ignore the authors who say “Oh, my God, what word? Oh, Jesus Christ…”, you know. Now, to hell with that. It’s not work. If it’s work, stop and do something else.
Now, what I’m thinking of is, people always saying “Well, what do we do about a sudden blockage in your writing? What if you have a blockage and you don’t know what to do about it?” Well, it’s obvious you’re doing the wrong thing, don’t you? In the middle of writing something you go blank and your mind says: “No, that’s it.” Ok. You’re being warned, aren’t you? Your subconscious is saying “I don’t like you anymore. You’re writing about things I don’t give a damn for.” You’re being political, or you’re being socially aware. You’re writing things that will benefit the world. To hell with that! I don’t write things to benefit the world. If it happens that they do, swell. I didn’t set out to do that. I set out to have a hell of a lot of fun.
On enjoying one’s work:
I’ve never worked a day in my life. I’ve never worked a day in my life. The joy of writing has propelled me from day to day and year to year. I want you to envy me, my joy. Get out of here tonight and say: “Am I being joyful?” And if you’ve got a writer’s block, you can cure it this evening by stopping whatever you’re writing and doing something else. You picked the wrong subject.
Ray Bradbury’s keynote address at the Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University, 2001.
In 2005, David Foster Wallace stepped onto the podium at Keyon College and delivered one of the most timeless speeches of all time—on his views of life, our default and hard-wired compulsiveness nature, misguided perspective towards life, and how to live a compassionate life. On September 12, 2008, just three years later, after David Foster Wallace took his own life, his speech was adapted into a short book titled: “This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life” (public library).
Wallace’s Timeless Monologue on Life— on our default hard-wired compulsive nature (mental setting) and about compassionate living:
Please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being ‘well-adjusted’, which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.
On our compulsive nature and how our intellect has turned against us:
It is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about ‘the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.’
This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.
And I submit that this is what the real, no-bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out.
On empathy and kindness, the two natural consequences that stem out of one’s innate compassion towards others:
Please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to.
But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends on what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
On our misguided sense of freedom:
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.
They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
On the real value of education:
The real value of a real education [has] almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
‘This is water.’
‘This is water.’
It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime.
Credit: CD Mosley (Youtube Channel)/Charletta Mosley — @charlec73
Above, is an adapted cinematic version of Wallace’s famous monologue ‘This is Water’ published by a Youtube Channel ‘CD Mosley’ Charlette mosley (@charlec73)
However tragic his death may seem, and even though the terrible master defeated him eventually, he’d truly arrived at a certain level clarity about the default nature of our compulsive thought processes and our convoluted perspectives towards life, keeping his speech truly timeless and relevant to all, most of us.