I had a dream and in it I was giving a commencement speech. It felt like it was for my nephew Charlie, who died suddenly at 19 about 8 months ago, or from Charlie or somehow Charlie related – I got up right away and wrote this down:
“It was like I was being shaken up in a grab bag of priorities and I was trying to take a snapshot and capture something that was true.
I’m supposed to get up and tell you the thing I captured. The “Truth” as I see it. Capital T.
The dream was complicated and rangy and full, so I’ll do my best to communicate what I saw.
The world is brutal. Just when you think you’ve landed someplace safe, the great wheel of history turns again and things go to shit.
And there is time. And death. The thing were are biologically designed to resist, is the one thing that we can not stop. Time will march on. We will age. And we will die. And we can’t control when or how. Period.
There is no “safe.” The is only safer. There is no “happily ever after.” There is only happy now.
Tribalism will always exist. There will always be a bully pile. And nobody wants to be on the bottom. Nobody. So the struggle will never end. As good as humans can be, we are still animals. And to deny our animal nature only seems to turn us into the worst kind of animal. A predator instead of a meerkat.
The only thing I could come up with that felt right was this: I will not be oppressed. And I will not be the oppressor.
Here are the things I will not be oppressed by:
I will not be oppressed by the notion of perfection. I can not be a perfect anything. There is no beauty, achievement, status or idea that will change the fact of my humanness. My failings. Because I am on the ride that is the great wheel of history, everything eventually becomes dust. So becoming acquainted with the idea of GOOD ENOUGH can save me from a lifetime of dissatisfaction.
I will not be oppressed by the ideas others have FOR me. It does not matter what other people think I should do or be. It only matters what is good enough for me.
I will not be oppressed by corporations – the new kings and queens. They will tell you they have the best ideas for how you should live, and oh yeah, they can sell it to you. But true benevolent kings and queens are rare. And even then you live under their rule. So buy what fits your version of “good enough” but not the lifestyle. That pretty picture is a lie.
I will not be oppressed by denial. If something is broken or not working I will not pretend that it is. I will not try to live forever because it’s impossible and besides, a few trips around on the great wheel, if you get them, are enough for anybody. There is the next great adventure to have – the seeing what comes after. Whatever it is, it is different. It is new.
I will not be oppressed by ego and hubris. Even if I can see all the problems of the world, the best I can do influence incremental change. I imagine even Martin Luther King and Gandhi must be looking down (or up or sideways) from wherever they are now and saying “huh, I thought I made a bigger difference.” Of course they had huge impact – their fight against
oppression changed things for countless people. But they did not fix everything. The very best you can do is decide what you’d like to make better and try – and let others decide what they might try to make better and stay the fuck out of their way.
I will not oppress others. I will give others the freedom to be their flawed, human selves while doing my best to create environments where they feel seen and valued for who they are.
I will not surround myself with enemies and try to turn them into friends.
I will not be oppressed by things. Greed is a disease. If you live your life believing that there is a thing or a person that will fill up your human-sized hole of need and sadness, you will never ever be satisfied.
For instance: a man is very, very rich. He goes on vacation to Capri or the French Riviera and is invited to visit his richer friends on their yachts. He is jealous that he does not have his own yacht, so he decides to become a billionaire so he can invite other people to his yacht, so that he can be the one making other people jealous. He lives in a constant state of dissatisfaction. This is a true story. It’s been told over and over again, since the beginning of what we call time.
A person who lives without any sense of ENOUGH will be a miserable person indeed.
To me a “good” life is first built within. The first journey is the journey wherein you decide that YOU are enough. Just as you are. Then you can take your nice degree and do absolutely nothing with it. You could decide to make candles, or raise children, or live on the streets – and still be enough to yourself. When you are enough to yourself – you understand the root of true kindness. It starts inside.
And when you are kind to yourself, you can turn that kindness outward. You can ride on that wheel of history saying “thank you” and meaning it. You can look at a beautiful day and say thank you to the forces that made it and mean it. You can have a shitty-terrible-no-good day and go to bed angry and tired and over-it, but a small part of you will know that the great wheel is still turning – and you can get up the next day, or the next – and everything will look a little brighter. And you will say thank you. And mean it again.
And when you are kind to yourself and when you understand the concept of enough – you can sometimes be a little spark of joy in the world. Ephemeral, always. And that is enough too.”