Friday, July 7, 2017

Justice John Roberts' Middle School Commencement Address

Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.

Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.
On the other hand all the 9th-graders I know think the whole world heaps massively unfair misfortunes on them every day, so they may not be the best audience for this sentiment.


G. Verloren said...

Cripes. This is a mentality that has always bothered me - the notion that people can't learn or grow or have a proper character without facing suffering and misfortune and injustice.

That being the victim of our world's imperfections is actually "good" somehow, and that everything is working as intended, because you need to be tested, and forged in the fires of adversity, and all that nonsense that just seems to exist to justify and excuse the imperfection of our world, and make us accept them in self-righteous, self-absorbed complacency.

How cynical and joyless do you have to be to actively and openly wish ill on middle schoolers "for their own good"? How presumptuous that you think you know what is necessary for them, or what is best for them! What arrogance and condescension!

Can't you convey the same or a similar message from another angle? One of reassurance, and encouragement? One that frames misfortune as an unfortunate fact of life that we all can all work to overcome and prevent in the future, rather than championing it as some sort of virtue in disguise meant to weed out the weak and unworthy, that we should simply accept and even embrace?

How about something like, "I wish you all the best, and while each of you will at some point surely face misfortunes in the future, I know that so long as you persevere, uphold justice and fairness, be generous and kind to others, embrace Virtue X, reject Vice Y, et cetera, et cetera, you will be successful in life, find your own happiness, and forge your own meaning, despite whatever hardships come your way. And I believe in doing so, and in being a good person, you will help make the world a better place for everyone."

These are 9th graders, for pete's sake.

Life is rough for kids. They've got enough to deal with. They don't need to be told, "Suck it up, princess - harshipp is good for you!" They need to be encouraged, and reassured that misfortunes are merely temporary setbacks, and that there's more to life than just injustice and suffering, and that it's all worthwhile, even dispite misfortunes, and to focus on being the best people they can be, and to always want to make the world a better place.

David said...

I would agree with G. And add: so far as I can see, a person who is treated unfairly is very likely to draw from it the lesson, not of "justice," but of fear, caution, wariness, and withdrawal--or they may well draw the lesson, better to cheat others first, and regard that as payback for how the world has treated you. And so on down the line. My experience is that those who have suffered are just as likely to show a lack of compassion--with the self-indulgent mantra, "I survived, you can too, so suck it up and deal"--as they are to feel others' pain. Roberts acknowledges this in a backhanded way, but one starts to wonder, since the ability to see the message in the misfortunes is the key, rather than the misfortunes themselves, why wish the misfortunes in the first place?

As Sensei Miyagi would say, the important thing is a strong root.

John said...

Lord, heap miseries upon us, but entwine our hearts with laughter low.

-James Joyce