As the new school year starts throughout America, let me take you back to a speech given by one of my 8th Grade students, a top Latin student, at her graduation.
Certainly the speech was not political, yet the philosophy behind her words showed a mentality about Life much more admirable than that evinced this summer by the current resident of the White House. Her major point dealt with the nature and value of success.
Different kinds of success contain different amounts of value. A success “where the bar was set low,” either by yourself or by “someone trying to help you,” was barely worthy of the name. And so only by struggling through difficulty would a success be seen as a true one.
She then emphasized that we have free will to choose success, or at least to attempt to succeed. Choosing to wait for someone to bring accomplishment to us, or worse, choosing to claim that success was impossible because Life was a stacked deck, were recipes for wasting one’s time. And although she did not say it quite this way, she ended by saying that even if it happened to be true that you were playing with the cards stacked against you, then it became imperative for you to unstack the deck!
I was impressed, of course, and thought about her speech recently in the shadow of the infamous “You didn’t build that (business). Somebody else made that happen” statement from the current resident of the White House.
Throughout the years I have told my students that I will never take credit for their success, and they should not blame me for their failures. So whom should we credit for this 8th-Grade girl’s ability to put together such a fine speech?
With the philosophy of BIG BRObama, one would say that she deserves hardly any credit at all. Her parents, teachers, priests, friends, brothers and sisters, and so on might all want a piece of her success in giving this speech. Their influence and advice and encouragement would be seen as the reasons why she could create such a speech.
With my student’s philosophy, however, one realizes that only one thing caused and created her speech.
With her free will, she chose to create the speech!
An influence is not a cause of a result. Encouraging words will not cause a person to take an action. The creation of an atmosphere of freedom, the creation of roads and airports and police departments will not cause people to become successful. The companies which made Leo Tolstoy’s pens and paper did not cause War and Peace to be written. Albert Einstein’s professors and previous mathematicians did not cause him to create his Theory of Relativity.
Tolstoy through his free will created – or “built” – his novels. Nobody else did it for him. He had to sit by himself and fill a blank page with a story: did his teachers bring him to a point where he was able to do this? Yes, but he had to will his abilities and his spirit to create something original.
In German, there is a phrase which good teachers say is their goal for their students: “Zum denken bringen.” “To bring them to think,” meaning that a successful teacher leads a student to a point where the girl or boy thinks on their own, for themselves, and thinks well.
My 8th Grade student saw the distinction between cause and influence and explained the deeper nature of success quite clearly. It is a national tragedy that our “leading-from-behind” president, who should be ashamed and embarrassed by his invention of that stupid phrase, cannot bring himself to understand or agree with the insights of this 8th Grade student.