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[personal profile] ericcheung

The other day, my brother found a commencement speech by Bill Watterson, from the commencement at Kenyon College 1990.  Matt's rediscovered Calvin and Hobbes recently, as the well-drawn, even cinematic, and intelligent portrait of a six-year-old's interpretation of the world and his philosophical musings with his friend that's only imaginary depending on the eye of the beholder.  After all, the two main characters were named after John Calvin, (the 16th century philosopher who believed in predestination, and was a huge influence on early Puritan settlers in America), and Thomas Hobbes (the 17th century philosopher and author of Leviathan, who believed that humankind's natural state was one of war), respectively.

If you've read Bill Watterson's thoughts as communicated in his commentary in the Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, you'll recognize his philosophical and ethical leanings in the commencement speech linked above.  It reads as genuine, not only because the point of view is spot on, but because the speech reads smarter than even his strip or previous musings do, if only because his audience isn't as broad as usual--not that he's ever been known to dumb things down (even within his strip, Calvin, the troubled student, has the hyper-literate vocabulary of a well-read grown-up).

Watterson's thesis can be found in the following paragraphs:

You will find your own ethical dilemmas in all parts of your lives, both personal and professional. We all have different desires and needs, but if we don't discover what we want from ourselves and what we stand for, we will live passively and unfulfilled. Sooner or later, we are all asked to compromise ourselves and the things we care about. We define ourselves by our actions. With each decision, we tell ourselves and the world who we are. Think about what you want out of this life, and recognize that there are many kinds of success. Many of you will be going on to law school, business school, medical school, or other graduate work, and you can expect the kind of starting salary that, with luck, will allow you to pay off your own tuition debts within your own lifetime.

But having an enviable career is one thing, and being a happy person is another.

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it's to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential -- as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth. You'll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you're doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you'll hear about them.

To invent your own life's meaning is not easy, but it's still allowed, and I think you'll be happier for the trouble. Reading those turgid philosophers here in these remote stone buildings may not get you a job, but if those books have forced you to ask yourself questions about what makes life truthful, purposeful, meaningful, and redeeming, you have the Swiss Army Knife of mental tools, and it's going to come in handy all the time.

In addition to this speech, someone else pointed me to the below video.  I think it's a good example of well-reasoned argument, and suggests how open-mindedness is a necessary trait of any debate participant.  I've been looking for an excuse to post it, and I think this will do.

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September 2012

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