Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.


faults in the clouds of delusion

Thursday, September 11, 2008


It's the anniversary of that day again. And for some reason, I feel like soap-boxing.

So here's the content of a speech I gave a few years ago.

It's a hand-me-down
The tho-oughts are broken


President B, Provost B, Distinguished Faculty, my fellow __ graduates, friends,

Thank you all for being here today. And congratulations to the many of you, those who thought they’d never make it. Hey, it looks like we did, after all. Not a bad achievement, is it? I mean, think -- of all those endless days and nights; the data that took months to come and then didn't work out; the painful paragraphs written and rewritten, then re-rewritten only to be trashed; think of those maniacal moments spent hovering somewhere between suicide and homicide -- seeking solace at the bottom of a beer glass at the West End. Those were the days!

I was immensely honored when I received the invitation to speak today. But, honestly, my first reaction was sheer, numbing panic. Then I thought -- wait on, you're a __ PhD, you can talk your way through this. But then it struck me that most of the others present would also be __ PhDs. So that idea didn't go too far. Then I thought, okay -- let's fall back on Plan B, something that's worked in the past, flippancy. But that didn't sound so good either. That was when I -- finally -- started thinking a little like I've been taught here. Systematically. What is the occasion? Commencement. A beginning. This is where, symbolically, the rest of our lives are starting. So maybe I can fall back on some of the research that I started right here at __, on things people do when there is a new beginning. I’m talking about New Year's resolutions.

So let me first propose a resolution that's based on a haiku written by one of my favorite poets, Robert Hunter. This is the refrain from the lyric, Ripple. It goes:

Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow

Many meanings may be read into this beautiful lyric. What I'd like to say is -- let us try to make a difference, a small difference, at each and every point of our lives. As Mahatma Gandhi suggested, "Be the change you want to see in the world." We're graduating today. We all dream of being the splash. Making the waves that everyone will notice and remember. But, I submit, we will have done our jobs if we can only be the ripple. Constantly, and in all circumstances. Be the change we want to see.

We will all be entering new walks of life now. Many of us stay in academia, with our roles vastly redefined. Yet, what we can do, every one of us, is propagate the good things that we experienced here at __. We have all had a variety of experiences -- let us take what we need, and leave the rest. Open doors, open minds; friendly, welcoming faces; co-operation, collaboration, tolerance; clear-headed, intellectual ways of thinking and dialogue; late nights of hard, hard work towards a desired goal. These, supposedly small things, have universal applicability, and universal value. Let us remember these, and practice and propagate them.

Conversely, let us try not to propagate some other things we may have experienced. Such as asking a candidate to leave the room after they have presented their dissertation proposal, and then shutting the door behind them and laughing maniacally. A little less of that might be good.

Let us listen, think, do. Criticize -- constructively.

One may ask -- what place is there for ripples, in the turbulent maelstrom that passes for a world today? Almost everyone graduating here today was in New York on September 11, 2001. The apocalyptic memories that we have from that day may never leave us. And we, who were here, may rightly wonder -- in a world that contains a 9/11, and the swirling cesspools of negativity that predated and have sprung from it, what place can a ripple have in such a world? Is it even meaningful to speak of ripples?

Clearly there are no easy answers.

When I was a child, my father, himself an academic, had a poster in his office. The poster read, "Are you here with the solution, or are you part of the problem?" It's a funny sound bite, but it carries a message. Are you here with the solution, or are you part of the problem? Which would you rather be, and why? And when? Personally, I believe right now is a good time for each of us to think in terms of identifying our place -- be it in the solution or in a new problem. For often a solution brings with it a new problem -- think of Kuhnian paradigm shifts, if you will. But really -- would you rather be the voice or in the wilderness? Is there any value to being part of the old problem? Whatever be our field, whatever the domain, we have to try to contribute to the solution; to still the waters, down to a ripple.

My research on self-control and New Years resolutions tells me that success at one's goals is often driven by expectancies of success. That is, people who expect to succeed, for various reasons, tend to be more successful. And expectancies really are nothing but manifestations of optimism, positivity, hope.

So there we have two things that can help us be the ripple. Hope, and help. Hope is what we give others, to see them through to Time 2. Help is what we give them, often so they can hope, and then they give back to us. The concept of help has been so trivialized in the Orwellian world that we live in. The person who stands behind the counter at a restaurant and asks, "May I help you?" isn't really helping you at all. They're just doing their job. The person who is helping is the person who goes out of their way -- does that little extra -- exercises the option when they didn't have to.

That, friends, is what we have to do. We must give hope, and we must help. We must be the ripples. And it is not easy-- indeed, as Hunter himself says in the last stanza of the lyric:

You who choose to lead must follow
But if you fall you fall alone
If you should stand then who's to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home

With those wise words, my friends, I bid thee farewell. Let us all go forth and be optimistic. Let us not forget to hope, and to help. To be the ripples in still water, and to be the change we want to see.

And before we leave, a last word to my ex-doctoral student brethren: Folks, they say there's free food outside. And this time, it's not GSAC pizza. Cheers, and thank you!


Blogger wildflower seed said...

ripples! :)

9/11/2008 10:58 PM  
Blogger km said...

You get to quote Ripple in a speech at work. I get to use Powerpoint at work.

success at one's goals is often driven by expectancies of success.

I subscribe to that theory. And I fully expect you to post more details of your research. It has all the makings of a fun, educational post.

9/13/2008 7:51 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

yes, i was very tempted to include some pix as well :-)

hey, i spend half my life staring at ppt as well!

9/16/2008 1:34 AM  

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