Monday, July 24, 2006

"MAKE A BONFIRE OF YOUR REPUTATIONS"
Excerpted and changed just a bit by Ron Lieberman from the
Commencement address to the graduating class of
Hobart College 1900, given by John Jay Chapman (1862-1933)

I was wondering if I had anything to say to young people today.
There are so many ideas and paths open to you.
The perils of the times and strong, long-held convictions
encourage me to offer you the following guidance.

If you wish to be useful, never take a course that will silence you.
Refuse to do anything that implies collusion... whether it be a
clerkship; a curacy; a legal fee; a post in a university; a place at
the tables of government; or a job in one of the many mindless
bureaucracies that multiply daily.

Retain the power of speech
no matter what other power you may lose.
If you can take this course, and in so far as you take it, you will
bless this country. In so far as you depart from this course,
and stay silent as little injustices mount,
you become mutes, oppressors, and hooded executioners.

As a practical matter, a mere failure to speak out upon occasions
where no opinion is asked or expected of you,
and when the utterance of uncalled-for suspicion is odious,
will often hold you to a concurrence in palpable iniquity.
We let much too much pass with the thought that
"it is none of my business."

It is true that speaking up may get you into trouble.
Try to raise a voice that will be heard from here to Washington
and across the seas. See what comes forward to shut off the sound.
The new secret police do not fit whatever mental images you have.
They will come to you with your "own best interests"
uppermost in their minds.
They will almost convince you that "to get along -
you must go along"

But, in fact, if you have a mind to make yourself heard, you must
make a bonfire of your reputations
and a choose to be a close enemy of most
men who would wish you well.

I have seen forty years of young people who rush out into the
world with their messages,
and when they find how deaf the world is,
they think they must save their strength and wait.
They believe that after a while they will be able to get up on some
little eminence from which they can make themselves heard.
"In a few years," reasons one of them,
"I shall have gained a standing,
and then I will use my powers for good."
Next year comes and with it a strange discovery.
They have lost their horizon of thought.
Their ambition has evaporated;
they now seem to have nothing to say.
They act powerless in the face of moving events
and shifting times.

This should be our main rule of conduct.
Do what you will, but speak out always.
Be shunned, be hated, be ridiculed, be scared, be in doubt,
but don't be gagged.
The time of trial is always.
Now is the appointed time.

For a quick bio of Chapman – check:
http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAchapmanJJ.htm

A college librarian friend responded to my note above with:
>Lao Tzu said, "He who speaks, does not know, he who knows, does not speak".

My reply to him:
Undoubtedly correct in a Tao-ist monastery,
and often true in human affairs...
but to paraphrase Mr. Jefferson...
Experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer,
while evils are sufferable,
than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations,
pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design
to reduce them under absolute Despotism,
it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such...
and to provide new Guards for their future security.

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