Monday, June 21, 2010

Advice for graduates

Having recently sat through our school's graduation where a former teacher is usually invited to give the speech, I've been reflecting on how difficult it is to give out advice to young folk without just uttering platitudes. I've been left hoping that no one ever asks me to make such a speech.

Justice Scalia just gave the graduation speech to his daughter's graduating high school class. And he turned some of the most common graduation platitudes on their head.
“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. 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. 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.”
In this world of moral relativism when people find it so difficult to criticize another country or religion's values, Scalia's advice is quite important. I don't know if the teenagers he was talking to would understand what he's saying and how it relates to their own lives, but it is advice that we should all remember.