the path to wisdom

The story is told of a wise man who was asked by a student the best way to gain knowledge. He lead the student to a river, where he plunged the young man’s head beneath the surface. He struggled to free himself, but the wise man kept his head submerged. Finally, after much effort, the youth was able to break free and emerge from the water. The wise man asked, “When you thought you were drowning, what one thing did you want most of all?” Still gasping for breath, the man explained, “I wanted air!” The philosopher commented, “When you want knowledge as much as you wanted air, then you will get it!”

Stephen Goforth

Good intentions are not enough

Movement is not necessarily progress. More important than your obligation to follow your conscience, or at least prior to it, is your obligation to form your conscience correctly. Nobody -- remember this -- neither Hitler, nor Lenin, nor any despot you could name, ever came forward with a proposal that read, "Now, let's create a really oppressive and evil society." Hitler said, let's take the means necessary to restore our national pride and civic order. And Lenin said, "Let's take the means necessary to assure a fair distribution of the goods of the world."

In short, it is your responsibility... not just to be zealous in the pursuit of your ideals, but to be sure that your ideals are the right ones. Not merely in their ends, but in their means. That is perhaps the hardest part of being a good human being: Good intentions are not enough. Being a good person begins with being a wise person, then when you follow your conscience, will you be headed in the right direction.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

Commencement Address at Langley High School

June 17, 2010

Good intentions are not enough

Movement is not necessarily progress. More important than your obligation to follow your conscience, or at least prior to it, is your obligation to form your conscience correctly. Nobody -- remember this -- neither Hitler, nor Lenin, nor any despot you could name, ever came forward with a proposal that read, "Now, let's create a really oppressive and evil society." Hitler said, let's take the means necessary to restore our national pride and civic order. And Lenin said, "Let's take the means necessary to assure a fair distribution of the goods of the world."

In short, it is your responsibility... not just to be zealous in the pursuit of your ideals, but to be sure that your ideals are the right ones. Not merely in their ends, but in their means. That is perhaps the hardest part of being a good human being: Good intentions are not enough. Being a good person begins with being a wise person, then when you follow your conscience, will you be headed in the right direction.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

Commencement Address at Langley High School

June 17, 2010

Both Tough and Tender

In many parts of American society it is considered inappropriate for men to express any emotion save one--anger. When a man learns to express other feelings and not be so concerned whether as to whether others think he is strong or “manly” he takes a major step forward.

Sure, there’s a time and place to "come on strong and take no prisoners." But it's a denial of your humanity to oversimplify, hiding behind a narrow definition of manhood. Men must be both tough and tender. Maturity comes when when we understand which one is appropriate at what time.

Stephen Goforth

learning wisdom

Taking our cue from the machinery and the data that dominate our world, we usually view knowledge as something that accumulates piecemeal over time. You start out with a little, and then you gradually pick up more and more. It’s like possessions: they pile up over time. But passive accumulation isn’t the way that you learn the most important things that you know about the world. First you are immersed in the knowledge, then you get distance from it (and even deny it) and then you return to a new relation with it.

William Bridges, The Way of Transition

The Lessons of Elders

Being unwilling to accept defeat—is a guarantee that one will never learn the lessons that must be learned if one is to mature. That is why the elders that we need so badly in our success-obsessed society are not the natural-born winners who rose to the top without a setback. Such people are easy to idealize, but they have little to teach us. What elders need to help younger people learn is that without releasing the fruits of one season, they cannot blossom into the next. Such elders can show us, because they have done it many times, how to let go of who we have been to clear the ground for the growth of who we are becoming. They can help us to understand the transition-related emotions of grief (sadness for what have let go of), disorientation (when we are lost in the neutral zone), and fear (when the challenges of the unknown new beginnings are overwhelming).

William Bridges,  The Way of Transition

Older but not Wiser

There are reasons why older is not necessarily wiser. You’re never more open to new experience than when you’re twenty. After that, the need to make money, the fear of having no work, the demands of children, the sense that the world is moving in strange new directions, the appearance of unfamiliar forms of expression that inevitably seem less wonderful than the ones that changed your life when you were twenty cause the aperture to slowly narrow.

By fifty, the obvious fact of your own decline is easily mistaken for an intimation of the world’s. And, since there’s never a shortage of evidence that things are, indeed, worse than they used to be, it’s incredibly satisfying to indulge the idea, and easy to confuse it with a veteran’s seasoned judgment.

George Packer, writing in The New Yorker

Follow your star.. maybe

My problem with platitudes (at graduation) is not that they are old and hackneyed, but that they are wrong.. (A) platitude I want discuss comes in many flavors. It can be variously delivered as, "Follow your star," or "Never compromise your principles." Or, quoting Polonius in "Hamlet" -- who people forget was supposed to be an idiot -- "To thine ownself be true." Now this can be very good or very bad advice. Indeed, follow your star if you want to head north and it's the North Star. But if you want to head north and it's Mars, you had better follow somebody else's star.

Indeed, never compromise your principles. Unless, of course, your principles are Adolf Hitler's. In which case, you would be well advised to compromise your principles, as much as you can. And indeed, to thine ownself be true, depending upon who you think you are.

It's a belief that seems particularly to beset modern society, that believing deeply in something, and following that belief, is the most important thing a person could do. Get out there and picket, or boycott, or electioneer, or whatever. Show yourself to be a committed person, that's the fashionable phrase. I am here to tell you that it is much less important how committed you are, than what you are committed to. If I had to choose, I would always take the less dynamic, indeed even the lazy person who knows what's right, than the zealot in the cause of error. He may move slower, but he's headed in the right direction.

Movement is not necessarily progress. More important than your obligation to follow your conscience, or at least prior to it, is your obligation to form your conscience correctly. Nobody -- remember this -- neither Hitler, nor Lenin, nor any despot you could name, ever came forward with a proposal that read, "Now, let's create a really oppressive and evil society." Hitler said, let's take the means necessary to restore our national pride and civic order. And Lenin said, "Let's take the means necessary to assure a fair distribution of the goods of the world."

In short, it is your responsibility, men and women of the class of 2010, not just to be zealous in the pursuit of your ideals, but to be sure that your ideals are the right ones. Not merely in their ends, but in their means. That is perhaps the hardest part of being a good human being: Good intentions are not enough. Being a good person begins with being a wise person, then when you follow your conscience, will you be headed in the right direction.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
Commencement Address at Langley High School
June 17, 2010