A Baccalaureate Address for the 2010 graduating class of Fort Morgan High School.
I’m going to tell you something that your parents, mentors, and guardians would probably rather you didn’t hear. It’s okay because they’ve got the advantage on me. They’ve been giving you advice your entire life and they’ll get to keep on doing it long after today when you will have completely forgotten this meddlesome sermon. It’s also okay, because I am also a parent, so I know of what I speak.
Here it is, my reckless, unfashionable, irresponsible, downright crazy advice to you, graduates: Shun Security. Don’t spend 1 more minute of your life trying to be safe. Don’t waste energy worrying about your comfort. Don’t put money and resources into protecting your future. And never put your own life before the life of another.
I confess I feel a little guilty telling you this because up till now it is probable that adults have gone to extraordinary lengths to make you feel safe. Or at least they should have. That is their job as parents, teachers, grandparents, uncles and aunts, and so on. They have tried very hard to get you to this day, healthy and whole. Many of them probably harbor dreams that you will lead a life better than the one they have had in terms of comfort and security. They want you to have a better education, a better job, a better house, and a better retirement than they have.
But you are bright individuals. By now most of you have seen behind the curtain and realized that life is not safe. Despite the best efforts of adults, danger has gotten through and you might be aware that we adults are afraid of an awful lot of things.
We’re afraid the stock market is going to come crashing down and wipe out our pension. If we have a pension. Cause if we don’t then we’re afraid of what happens when we get too old to work. Or our health starts to fail us, and that makes us afraid of the health care system. We’re afraid to take medications because of side effects and we’re afraid of not having medications. We’re afraid of surgery and we’re afraid of not getting the surgery we need soon enough to stop the spread of the cancer that also terrifies us.
We’re afraid of hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis and tornadoes. We’re afraid that hail and heavy rain will ruin this year’s crop, or else we’re afraid that no rain will come at all. We’re afraid of , or cooling, rising sea-levels, and disappearing glaciers. Or we’re afraid of scientists and politicians and experts pulling the wool over our eyes with fancy charts and numbers.
We’re afraid of terrorists, and drug czars, and cartels and dirty bombs, and other scary sounding words we hear on the news. We’re afraid of corporations and wall street and bankers, and we’re afraid of what would happen to our economy without corporations and wall street and bankers.
Every day of your life, in the back of our minds, we adults have been afraid for you. That any of these things from to Swine Flu to pedophiles might harm you or take you from us. Every time you scraped your knee or didn’t call home at curfew or studied too little, or studied too much, or had too few friends, or had too many friends… we worried. Because we wanted you to be safe.
And though this is a natural desire it is also tragic, because safety is an illusion. Despite all of the advertisements to the contrary there is no diet which will make you immune to heart attacks and cancer. There is no foolproof investment plan that will make you immune to a bad economy. There is no strategy to get you through life that will guarantee comfort, or longevity, or security. There just isn’t.
Like the farmer in the parable we heard read earlier – we build bigger barns and silos to hold the grain we’ve stored up, only to discover that our time has come and all the grain in the world won’t buy us another year. Security is an illusion – an elaborate, expensive, time-consuming illusion.
The worst thing about chasing the illusion of security is that along the way we do a lot of harm to other people. In the interest of protecting ourselves and our loved ones from danger we run roughshod over the vulnerable in our society. We make enemies and we go to war against those enemies and ironically we only feel less safe the more this continues. Struggling mightily to create for ourselves an illusory shroud of security we are continuously confronted with equally illusory dangers. Unable to tell the real dangers from the fake danger we see all around us, we tighten up or lash out ever more in a deadly and completely avoidable downward spiral of fear.
Fear, more than any other emotion, defines our culture these days, and I think it is high time for a culture-shift. I want you to live free from the fear that has plagued the generations ahead of you and this is the secret – to shun security; to let go entirely of the illusion that you, or anyone else for that matter, can make yourself safe; to realize that there are things which are much more desirable than safety and getting those things entails joyful risk, self-sacrifice, and an openness of spirit which fear will kill.
Here is something which is more desirable than security – beauty is more desirable than security. Not physical beauty. Not sexiness. Not the stuff they sell on magazine covers – I mean real beauty. The kind of beauty that makes some things Art and some things just things. The kind of beauty that cracks open your soul and makes you grateful to be alive. If you have art in you waiting to be given life, I want you to Shun Security. Don’t do the safe thing and become an accountant. Take risks for beauty.
Here is something else which is more desirable than security – Peace. Not peace enforced at gunpoint. Not the fake peace which is just fear of someone with a bigger arsenal than you. The kind of peace which comes from within and heals wounds and bridges gaps and increases understanding between people. The hard kind of peace which means saying I’m sorry, and I forgive you, and being willing to turn the other cheek rather than seek retribution. If you have the capacity to understand and forgive then I want you to Shun Security. Don’t do the safe thing and keep to yourself. Go where the suffering and the violence are and take risks for peace.
Here is something else which is more desirable than security – Love. Not infatuation. Not even romance, per se. I mean the kind of love which means giving yourself for other people. The kind of love which saves lives and souls because of its crazy generosity. The kind of love which lifts people out of distress and hopelessness, and shows them the impossible truth which is that there is more good in a single human heart than all the evil and all the injustice the entire history of humanity can muster. If you have love in you waiting to be shared I want you to Shun Security. Don’t do the safe thing and give only what you think you can afford. Give everything you have and everything you are and take risks for love.
Shun security. If the world is telling you to be less generous you need a bigger bank account – ignore it. Safety isn’t worth the loss of your kind heart.
Shun security. If the world is telling you to give up your passions and do the responsible thing – ignore it. Safety isn’t worth the loss of your creative soul.
Shun security. If the world is telling you there are problems too big for you to solve, and dangers too terrible to be risked – ignore it. Safety isn’t worth the loss of will to overcome.
Shun security. If after this baccalaureate people tell you I’m way off-base and you need to be realistic and take care of yourself first – ignore it. Safety isn’t worth the loss of your spirit of adventure.
Life isn’t safe. You haven’t been safe one day of your life so far, and you won’t be safe a single day from here on out. Shun Security and go for the things that really matter, and rejoice that you have been given the courage to do so. The world will forever be in your debt.