Sunday, February 01, 2009

John Gardner "Personal Renewal" Speech

I first came across John Gardner from a March 1994 article titled "Meaning: Something You Build Into Your Life" that he wrote for "Stanford Magazine". Given to me by my parents, the piece is about the themes of human potential, character and commitment (other themes as well, but I reckon these three are weighty enough to suffice as a description).

I've not seen this exact article in electronic form ("Stanford Magazine" is archived online back to 1996), but did find a section of the PBS website devoted to Gardner, his life and his work. Part of the site is a speech that he gave in 1990 titled "Personal Renewal" containing many of both the same concepts and exact language later reprinted in the aforementioned magazine article.

Gardner's speech is reprinted here and some of the more profound highlights are below...

"If we are conscious of the danger of going to seed, we can resort to countervailing measures. At almost any age. You don't need to run down like an unwound clock. And if your clock is unwound, you can wind it up again. You can stay alive in every sense of the word until you fail physically. I know some pretty successful people who feel that that just isn't possible for them, that life has trapped them. But they don't really know that. Life takes unexpected turns."

"The things you learn in maturity aren't simple things such as acquiring information and skills. You learn not to engage in self-destructive behavior. You learn not to burn up energy in anxiety. You discover how to manage your tensions, if you have any, which you do. You learn that self-pity and resentment are among the most toxic of drugs. You find that the world loves talent, but pays off on character."

"I'm not talking about anything as narrow as ambition. After all, ambition eventually wears out and probably should. But you can keep your zest until the day you die. If I may offer you a simple maxim, "Be interested," Everyone wants to be interesting -- but the vitalizing thing is to be interested. Keep a sense of curiosity. Discover new things. Care. Risk failure. Reach out."

"Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account."

Very cool stuff...