This is not a drill. There will not be smores at the conclusion of today’s program. This, is a blogger’s Call-to-Arms.
With all deference to my fellow advocates of the 1st Amendment, I would propose that just because you have the freedom to say something does not mean it’s worth listening to. Sadly, so much of the blogosphere walking past my front porch of late does little more than add to the surplus population of noise. I look forward to my reading time. I treasure the prospect of it with eager anticipation. But sadly, so many blogs come across like resumes. With so many clammering for our attention and so many other demands calling for our time, you quickly find yourself getting picky about the ones you read. I wish I could read everything everyone puts out, but the laws of time and space prohibit such an indulgence. So I don’t. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad so many of you have an opinion, but what I’m really interested in is why you have it? If you know or believe in something, let me wrestle with you. It’s not about who’s right or wrong, I simply want to know why it matters to you. What moved you to post it? Don’t waste my time with the ‘what’; show me your ‘why’. Let your freak flag fly.
When we were kids, we got it. Remember when it was you asking why the sky was blue?; Why is it called ‘up’?; What’s heaven?; Why do zebras have stripes? And when I wanted to make the grown-ups squirm, my personal favorite: ‘Where do babies come from?‘. We are born as questioning and curious beings. I really believe it is hard-wired into us. But as we mature (?), we find ourselves very uncomfortable being the one on the receiving end of the questions we used to ask. Why? See…another question.
This being the time of the year when students graduate, commencement addresses are a dime-a-dozen. But there was one in particular you may have heard about, namely David McCullough speaking to the graduating class at Wellesley High School. While I have included a link at the conclusion of my tirade so you can read the text for yourself, permit me to share one excerpt of his tough love address:
“You are not special. You are not exceptional….Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That’s 37,000 valedictorians… 37,000 class presidents… 92,000 harmonizing altos… 340,000 swaggering jocks… 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs.” He goes on to say: “The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer”. Here’s another little news flash: the majority of Wellesley parents appreciated the speech. How’s dem apples?
In the same Daily Beast article, Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, authors of the book “The Narcissism Epidemic” propose an incendiary question. Have we (as a society) lowered our expectations to the point where we feel obligated to tell every youngster they are special so many times, and with so little evidence, that we’re actually losing opportunities to teach our juniors the lessons of achievement? And in so doing, are we lessening a kids ability to empathize? Good questions.
I went on to read Stephanie Hanes (Christian Science Monitor) who said, “As the overwhelmingly positive reaction to McCullough’s speech shows, we are in the midst of an ‘everyone is special’ plague; one that is not doing any favors for kids, their parents or their future employers.”
Lest some among you think I’ve abandoned my quest for ‘Renaissance Man’ status in throwing in with those who say we aren’t special, I do believe that we are unique – as individuals and, as a nation. I vehemently defend my assertion that there is a spark of the Creator in each of us; that in some way, each of us has the Cosmos (or Source; or God) living inside us – in our Souls. I believe that each of us have the capacity to recognize a kindred frequency that resonates with our spark when we see something beautiful or tragic. Great. If that’s so, the real question then becomes, “So what do you do with your spark?”.
I say, get radical in whatever way being a radical walks out for you – now and in the place you’re living – this week. Is your blogging doing that for you? I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but ‘tomorrow is promised to no one’. All we’ve got is ‘now’ and the lessons of the past which have brought us to this particular juncture in the grand equation. What do you do?
Umair Haque wrote in his essay, Declare Your Radicalness appearing in the Fourth of July edition of the HBR blog: “Consider what I’d call the paradox of radicalism. Everywhere, we — especially Americans — are told that we’re the inheritors of the legacies of plucky adventurers, grand risk-takers, resolute pioneers; those with the courage and sheer impertinence to defy a status quo that tried its damnedest to stop them from creating a future that was brighter than the drab present they refused to settle for.
Everywhere, and especially today, we celebrate the spirit and ethos of radicalism; still, we fly flags vibrant with the colors of the radicals of yesteryear.
When it comes down to it, we spend our days sucking out each others souls in bureaucratic organizations in which adding a new word to a slogan for a character that doesn’t really exist whose purpose is selling more pointless junk so people can spend money they don’t really have to live lives they don’t really want for reasons that don’t matter is considered risky.
In other words, we’re incrementalists. We may honor the radical — but we surround ourselves with the banal, trivial, humdrum, and tedious.”
Haque goes on to say: “If there’s a single idea that made America great, I’d argue it’s the notion that, like every human, every human creation has a cycle of life; and the new must supplant the old for prosperity to come to fruition — and if there’s a single idea that’s making America stagnate, I’d suggest it’s the notion that the best we can do in the future is the best we were able to do in the past.”
There it is again…a very good question.
Having committed myself to the daunting task of walking my talk as often as I speak it, I am compelled to make my own confession. This week, I followed my own counsel. After catching a PBS special (Wayne Dyer…I’m a big fan), I challenged myself to look at my present world through younger eyes and ask the dreaded question: “Why?” So off to the library I went, proudly coming home with a copy of “Excuses Begone – How to change lifelong, self-defeating thinking habits”. Flushed with excitement at having the next two-weeks to complete the read, I remember congratulating myself on my initiative as I set the book down in a prominent place on my desk. ‘What a good boy am I!’
You guessed it. Nothing happened.
The book sat there for 2 or 3-days with Dr. Dyer looking up at me from the front cover every time I walked by. I’m sure Wayne’s a wonderful guy, but his smiling face on the book jacket was really starting to annoy me. But why? Excellent. Good question.
After some serious reflection, I knew why. The old excuses I’d relied on my whole life – to the point of being crutches – were scared they were going to die. I mean, let’s be fair. If I were successful at de-energizing some of the nagging behaviors that have hobbled me for years, what was going to happen to them? Sorry Charlie – unemployment applies to everyone. ‘They’ were afraid of being out of work and as if a puppet on a string, ‘I’ allowed myself to lull myself into a paralysis masquerading as being ‘really busy’. No sooner had my own headline flashed across my forehead, I knew what to do. I got up, pulled Dyer from his spot on my desk, went and sat down on the edge of my bed – and began to read; and think and challenge. I’ll keep you posted on my progress through the self-righting process I’ve laid out for myself over the next few weeks, but I will admit to smiling as I heard my ‘old dan’ habits wailing like the wicked witch in Wizard of Oz. “I’m melting….oh, what a life!”. Yeah, yeah – I’m heartbroken, but it sucks to be you. You’re still fired. I’m the boss of me and thanks for slowing me down for the last umpteen years. Do me a favor and close the door on your way out.
Our egos are crafty (e.g., ‘you’re special’). It pops in when you least expect it. As I approach the 1-year birthday of my blog, I still find myself stunned (and grateful) at the number of views racked up over the last 11-months. But for all my lofty aspirations and nearly in the very same breath, I will catch myself logging on to see what the trip-counter says for today. I’m gob-smacked at being LIKED on Facebook at twice the rate of my reads on WordPress and I’m not even on Facebook. But again, for all the poo-pooing I do of Facebook, there comes another breath and I began to wonder (even out loud) if I should reconsider. ‘It might drive readership…’ Ego. I told you it was one wascally wabbit…vew-wy clev-vuh.
Point is, I was beginning to feel ‘special’. One – I’m not and Two – I was able to catch myself in time. The part of me that can’t lie to me knew I needed to reel in my swelling chest and reorient my course to better headings that were ‘me’.
While there isn’t anything particularly special about me, I do have something that you have too; namely a unique perspective that is mine and mine alone.
For me, the blogging process behind publishing once-a-week keeps me honest in my real life. It provides me with an outlet to explore why I am who I am and why I do what I do. For having set off on this adventure last August, I’m getting the funny feeling the trip is taking me places yet to be imagined. Isn’t that what being an explorer is all about? Ask Dora. She’ll tell you the same thing.
Writing every week challenges me to defend and understand why I think and act as I do. Does what I think and do add to the Collective or am I just taking up space? Good question. Jeessh…another question. Do you see how they just keep coming?
If not one Soul reads the product banging out of my keyboard, that’s OK too because I’m doing this for me. That does not make me selfish or special. It’s like the airline instructions to put on my oxygen mask first if I’m flying with children or those who may need assistance. Think about it. If I’m not breathing at full capacity, how can I be of any good to anyone else?
If you read something in my wrestling match with myself that helps you, than I’ve already fulfilled my Purpose of living a Service-oriented Life. If I have, in any way, left you better than you were before you pulled me up on your screen, you’ve helped us both. How cool is that!
Help me. Whether your blog is prose, entertainment, photography, tatoos, travel, recipes or the history of 17th century artillery – do me a favor. Tell me why it matters to you. Make me shiver right along with you. Pay yourself the respect that someone else can probably relate to a passionate thought well conceived and purposefully delivered. I don’t care that your cat likes to ride along with you when you go to Target. I refuse to be concerned that you admit to enjoying a good chew on a piece of charcoal. Tell me why or better yet, let it seep out in the craftsmanship you put into your work. I’ll know it matters when you’re compelling in conveying why it matters to you. Think of it as a secret club house handshake…I don’t care. Just make what you do count.
Sometime this week, borrow a kid and pop their eyeballs into your head for a little while (being careful not to let the kid wander off while you do).
Like my book cover incident, my hunch is the more annoyed you get at asking yourself ‘why, why, why’, the more likely you are to be on the right track to having something really worthy to talk about.
You’re so much more than blah, blah, blog. Give me ‘BAM’!! Go wave your flag this week. Make some noise. Make your status-quo nervous. For my part, I’ll be doing the same. See you on the flip-side.
This has been a public service announcement on the part of fully vested bloggers everywhere. You, me and the other freaks-of-a-feather are now free to move about the country.
“Why you? Because there’s no one better. Why now? Because tomorrow isn’t soon enough.”
- Donna Brazile
Want to Read More About It?:
Umair Haque – HBR Blog Network – Declare Your Radicalness 8:06 AM July 4, 2012 – SOURCE: http://blogs.hbr.org/haque/2012/07/declare_your_radicalness.html,
Photo Credits and Attributions: Double Talk Cartoon: Conceived by dan4kent with source material from: http://www.infodesign.com.au/usabilityresources/usabilitytestingmistakes and http://keepingregular.blogspot.com/2010/09/cartoon-ant.html, Freak Flag Illustration: Jump Back Jack @ http://www.sodahead.com/living/does-this-song-make-you-want-to-wave-your-flag/question-1050357/?page=2, David McCullough Jr at Wellesley Commencement – Photograph SOURCE: http://www.thespec.com/news/article/742489–graduates-you-are-not-special, Dr. Wayne Dyer – Excuses Begone: http://www.drwaynedyer.com/, Elmer Fudd – Looney Tunes/Warner Bros., Boy Looks Out to Sea: http://betweenfearandlove.com/, “Blah, Blah, Blah” Artwork by Mel Bochner: http://www.todayandtomorrow.net/2009/05/11/amazing-blah-blah-blah/
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