“There are three types of people. Those who can count and those who can’t.” – Anonymous
Once again, we find ourselves in the thick of graduation season. And, once again, all of my invites for speaking engagements have apparently been lost. Still, should the day arrive when such an invitation to speak at a commencement ceremony actually find its way to me, I feel I need to be prepared.
With that bit of warning out of the way, here is my speech* for the Class of 2014. (*I actually think I would be a horrible speaker for such an occasion, as I write far better than I speak.)
Ladies and gentlemen. Families. School board members. Thank you for your….Oh. Sorry. Forgot the graduates. And yes, you guys down there in the funny caps and gowns, thank you for the invitation to say a few words today.
Therefore, let me say: Adelaide. Rotary engine. And Beeblebrox. Thank you.
What? Oh. I was supposed to say a few words that made sense. I’m sorry, but that didn’t really come across in the invitation. Well, it looks like we’re winging it from here on, then.
Actually, I would like to talk about labels. Throughout your academic career, you have faced labels. Labels on books. Labels on lockers. Labels on lab equipment.
But really, I’m talking about the labels that you end up wearing. Occasionally, you have to wear that little white label that says “Hi. My name is…” It has just enough white space for you to write your first name, or, if you write small enough, first and last name.
However, to write out all of the labels that you have been given over the years, you would need a much larger name tag. There are, of course, the standard labels: athletic, geeky, artsy, smarty, nerdy, and so on. Some days, you are more of one than the other. Some days, it’s a mish-mash of them.
And those are just a few examples of the kinder labels that others give you and that you give to others. You know how cruel people can be. Many labels that people force onto others are not nice enough to say aloud in a speech (or publish in a paper). The list of labels, of the ways we try to pigeonhole someone, is endless. Infinite, perhaps. But we keep trying to do it.
We label based on political affiliation. Religious beliefs. Where they live. What they do. What they wear. And so on.
And with each label comes a predisposed set of standards. If they are a (fill in the blank), then they must (insert idea of exactly how they must think and behave due to the previous blank).
I’m not suggesting you stop labeling people. I am, however, going to suggest that you simplify things a bit.
I am telling you to give people a label, but I’m only giving you two choices. You should consider people and label them either a) someone I want to spend time with or b) someone I don’t want to spend time with.
All other considerations should be secondary. It shouldn’t matter what they wear or where they live. Does it matter what they do? Not really. Should it matter what church they attend? No.
What should matter is are they the kind of person you would want to spend time with. Hang out with. Get to know them.
Maybe you would like to hang out with them because they have traveled and have great stories to tell you.
Maybe it’s because you enjoy a similar hobby or interest and you can learn from them.
Maybe they are just a fun person and you feel better by hanging out.
Conversely, there will be people whom you see and actively avoid contact with.
And here is the thing. A person you want to spend time with and one that you don’t could, based on the standard methods of labeling, have nearly identical labels. They could both dress the same. Come from the same place. Even go to the same church. Doesn’t matter. One you will be glad to see. One you won’t.
Now, with this comes the reverse. What kind of a person are you? Are you the kind of person that others will be glad to see coming? Will they want to spend time with you or spend time avoiding you?
You can label yourself, or allow others to do the labeling for you, but those are, in my opinion, the real labels to consider.
Now, if you will look under your chairs, you will each find a gift. Yes. A brand new….labeler!