19 Feb Quad 2015. Commencement Speech
GRADUATION 2015 by Dr Jonathan Long
Three words. That’s all – just three words. Three words which will be reliable guides throughout your life. Three words to pay attention to whenever you lose your way, whenever you need direction, comfort or courage:
Jesus told a story about two builders. One built his house on foundations of sand. The other built his house on foundations of rock. The house built on sand did not hold up in a storm – it fell to the ground and collapsed. The foundations were not strong enough. The house built on rock stood firm. A simple enough story but one with a profound meaning.
Pay attention to what is beneath you. What is beneath you is all about your foundations. It is about the things you choose to build your life upon. If your foundations are strong and secure you will have the strength and resilience to stand up to whatever life brings to you. If your decisions and plans are ever based on hatred, greed, anger or selfishness, you are building on foundations of sand. These foundations are weak and dangerous – they will not support you when the storms of life come your way.
But if your decisions and plans are based on what is true, honourable, right and pure and lovely and kind, you build on rock. You will be strong in the face of pressure. You will be resilient in times of challenge. What are you building on?
Imagine if I gave each of you a balloon and I asked you to write your name on it using a marker pen. Then all the balloons are collected and put in another room. Then I ask you, on the count of three, to find the balloon which has your name written on it within five minutes. Imagine the chaos! Everyone madly searching for their name, pushing others and bumping into people! At the end of five minutes hardly anyone would find their own balloon – and there would be many burst balloons lying on the floor.
Now imagine each of you is asked to randomly collect any balloon and simply give it to the person whose name was written on it. Within minutes everyone will have their own balloon.
This is what happens in our lives. We frantically search for our own happiness. That’s all we focus on. We don’t realise that our happiness lies in the happiness of other people. Give them their happiness and you will get your own. Give others their balloons first. Your balloon is out there, somewhere – but don’t look for it. Pay attention, instead, to those who are beside you – the people around you. Find their balloons and yours will find its way to you too.
The great humanitarian, Albert Schweitzer, put it well when he said, ‘I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.’
Professor Martin Seligman has worked on the theme of human fulfilment all his life. His ground-breaking work at the University of Pennsylvania has revealed some astonishing facts about what makes people tick! Time and again, his research has uncovered the same remarkable truth – that the most fulfilled people are those who belong to and focus on something bigger than themselves.
The truth is this – the more our goals and motivations are about something greater than us, the more balance and satisfaction we find in life.
If I try to balance a broomstick on my finger I have to look in the right place. If I focus my attention on my finger, the broomstick will always fall to the ground. But if I focus up at the top of the broom, I will find perfect balance.
The philosopher and novelist, Iris Murdoch, once wrote, ‘Our ability to do the right thing depends partly, if not wholly, on the quality of our habitual objects of attention.’ In other words, what we focus on in life will determine our ability to judge between right and wrong, to find beauty, truth and goodness.
Many of you, by finding a faith to live by, have found that focus here. Others of you have yet to discover that life’s broomsticks will only balance when our focus is on things above!
I could have added a fourth word to this list of three. If I had, it would be BEHIND – and that would be a word which speaks of letting go. It would a place not to focus on – a place not to pay undue attention to. Whatever regrets you now have about your past, its failings and its disappointments – let them go today. There is no future in the rear-view mirror.
Go with these words in your head and in your hearts. Three words which tell us what to pay attention to: Beneath, beside, beyond – and do not be held back by what is behind.