Posted by: Don Linnen | 30 June 2012

Special or Not

June, the month of commencements. A month of speeches to teach or to remind – if you were listening.

Messages ranged from you are not special to you ARE special because you’re lucky. They were not contradicting.

David McCullough created a stir by not stroking graduates with gushing enthusiasm about how good they were or how great they can be.  He told it like it is. He said they were not special.

He urged them to risk failure at the cost of success. He reminded them that selfless giving for the good of others offered a far better reward than a meaningless trophy.

Michael Lewis bluntly gave an uncomfortable reminder about luck to his privileged graduates. He said they were special – because they were lucky.

Few successful people want to admit they had little to do with their good fortune. He’s right. I’ve watched good sales guys struggle and fair but lucky sales guys strut over “their” accomplishments. 

Is it just luck? Is it being in the right place at the right time? The older I get, the less I believe in coincidence. Whatever it is, the results are similar.

Giving is the common denominator between the two speeches. Lewis told the fortunate graduates of the elite Ivy League school they are obliged to share their good fortune.

He reminded them of noblesse oblige, two elegant French words for a concept Luke described in the teachings of Jesus. The French term is fairly modern. It implies there is a duty for nobility to share their good fortune.

The Christian concept, found in Luke 12:48, says the same thing, but not because we are noble or special. We are expected to do it. Everyone really is special.

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