so graduation was tonight, and i was thinking about all the messages that we commonly say to graduates. they’re often admonishments and encouragements, exhortations to be all that you can be, not to limit yourself, not to listen to those around you, to instead strike out on your own and be your own man/woman.

yes yes, i support empowerment too. in fact, i think american society would be a hell of a lot different if people were more empowered to be different, make their own choices, change their own lives and the lives of others. but it does worry me a little that our messages, or maybe more the messages teenagers tell each other, are about ignoring what people think. so many times tonight i heard references to learning to ignore what others say about you. i understand this, having gone through the crucible of [particularly] middle school – kids are cruel; they will make fun of you if you’re wearing the wrong sneakers.

but i feel that a valuable lesson i’ve only really learned as an adult is that it DOES matter what other people think of you– and it behooves you as an adult to consider it actively, and react to it positively. you are in real life with other people and your actions and words and behavior affect them. who you are in their eyes is just as real as who you are in your eyes. if you think you are good and just and moral, but everyone who knows you shies away and exhibits distrust, maybe you should rethink your self-conception; and/or your outward actions. speaking more personally, if you think you’re funny and sarcastic, but some people are hurt by your sarcasm, maybe you should curb it. it’s intent versus impact, but it’s also recognizing that we live in communities. these communities matter. american individualism can learn a lot from valuing other people’s ideas. we should seek feedback.


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