What advice would you give the younger you?
I like commencement addresses. You've seen the Conan O'Brien one at Dartmouth, I guess. And the Will Ferrell one at Harvard was pretty funny. Less riotous, but quite thoughtful, is Arianna Huffington's recent talk at Sarah Lawrence College - some highlights from which are below. Turns out, she's not just Greek, she's a Platonist...Who knew!
What would you say in your speech? What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
Anyway, here are Arianna's thoughts:
While the media are obsessing over Donald Trump's presidential run or Kim Kardashian's latest boyfriend, your generation is busy creating another world. On this part of the split screen there is an explosion of creativity, innovation, empathy, and compassion. You are the most connected and engaged generation in history. And you are asking the big questions and contemplating the cosmic riddles about why we're here and what life is really about.
In the 1990s I wrote a book called The Fourth Instinct, which explored the instinct that takes us beyond our first three—our impulses for survival, sex, and power—and drives us to expand the boundaries of our caring to include our communities and the world around us. That instinct is just as vital as the other three but we rarely give it the same kind of attention.
Which is unfortunate because these days—and especially since the economic meltdown—the role empathy plays in our lives has only grown more important. In fact, in this time of economic hardship, political instability, and rapid technological change, empathy is the one quality we most need if we're going to survive and flourish in the 21st century.
Just before he died, Jonas Salk defined the transition we're in as moving from Epoch A (based on survival and competition) to Epoch B (based on collaboration and meaning). During this seismic shift in our world, in which values are changing, the most important thing that we are missing is not IQ, but wisdom. That's why I love your school's motto—Wisdom With Understanding. Because nothing matters as much.
Wherever you look in the world, there are brilliant leaders in business, media, and politics making terrible decisions every day. What they're lacking is not intelligence but wisdom. Because leadership, after all, is seeing the icebergs before the Titanic hits them.
In the third century, before even Twitter existed, the philosopher Plotinus described three different sources of knowledge: opinion, science, and illumination. Illumination—or wisdom—is precisely what we most need today. Part of wisdom is recognizing that there is a purpose to our life that may not be immediately obvious as our life unfolds. Things —especially the biggest heartbreaks—often only make sense as we look back, not as we are experiencing them.
I remember, for example, in my 20s, when I fell in love with a man whom I had not met. I fell in love with his writing. His name was Bernard Levin, and he was writing for the London Times. I would literally cut out his columns, underline them, and learn them by heart. When I finally met him, I was petrified and tongue-tied. Nevertheless, he invited me to dinner, and I prepped for the date not by going to the hair dresser but by reading everything he was writing. I read every detail about Northern Ireland. Of course, Northern Ireland never came up on the date… and we ended up being together for seven years. Then I hit 30 and I desperately wanted to have children. He wanted to have cats. So I did something that I was terrified to do: I left the man I deeply loved. And basically everything that's happened in my life—my children, my books, The Huffington Post, the fact that I'm here speaking in front of you today—is because a man wouldn't marry me.
Remember that, okay? In life, the things that go wrong are often the very things that lead to other things going right. Or as Max Teicher, who is graduating today, put it to me last night: he was bumped from an art class he really wanted to be in because there were already too many kids enrolled, but because of that he ended up in a philosophy class he really loved. So, to quote Max, “by getting unlucky, I actually got lucky. ”
A key component of Wisdom is Fearlessness, which is not the absence of fear, but rather not letting our fears get in the way. I remember one of the low points in my life, when my second book was rejected by 37 publishers. By about rejection 25, you would have thought I might have said, “hey, you know, there's something wrong here. Maybe I should be looking at a different career. ”
Instead, I remember running out of money and walking, depressed, down St. James Street in London and seeing a Barclays Bank. I walked in and, armed with nothing but a lot of chutzpah, I asked to speak to the manager and asked him for a loan. Even though I didn't have any assets, the banker—whose name was Ian Bell—gave me a loan. It changed my life, because it meant I could keep things together for another 13 rejections.
And then I got an acceptance. In fairytales there are helpful animals that come out of nowhere to help the hero or heroine through a dark and difficult time, often helping them find a way out of the forest. Well, in life too, there are helpful animals disguised as human beings—like Ian Bell, to whom I still send a Christmas card every year. So, very often, the difference between success and failure is perseverance. It's how long can we keep going until success happens. It's getting up one more time than we fall down.