Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Inspiring Words

I don't know about you, but I have a hard time remembering where I hear or see things these days. Was it on the news? Did I see it on Twitter? Did I read it on someone's blog. Hell, did an actual person tell me something in an actual conversation? So many different sources of information, they all seem to blend together after a while. 

Someone, somewhere, wrote or said something about Toni Morrison's commencement address at Rutgers University. I remember being interested at the time, I've always been a big Toni Morrison fan. I saw hear speak when I was a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin. She spoke at the basketball stadium, and with all due respect to the Badger b ballers of my day, it was probably the best thing to happen in that building during my time in Madison. I made a mental note to look into it further when I had more time.

While I was looking for video of the speech, I came across this excerpt:

I have often wished that Jefferson had not used that phrase “the pursuit of happiness” as the third right — although I understand in the first draft it was “life, liberty and the pursuit of property.” Of course, I would have been one of those properties one had the right to pursue, so I suppose happiness is an ethical improvement over a life devoted to the acquisition of land, acquisition of resources, acquisition of slaves. Still, I would rather he had written “life, liberty and the pursuit of meaningfulness” or “integrity” or “truth.” I know that happiness has been the real, if covert, goal of your labors here. I know that it informs your choice of companions, the profession you will enter. But I urge you, please don’t settle for happiness. It’s not good enough. Personal success devoid of meaningfulness, free of a steady commitment to social justice, that’s more than a barren life; it is a trivial one. It’s looking good instead of doing good.

I wonder if the kids at Rutgers were inspired by these words. I know I was.    


  1. I'm a big fan of Toni Morrison as well, and I love this excerpt. Thanks for sharing it. Had to laugh as well as I never remember where I hear or read anything anymore, I'm suffering from information overload lately.

  2. I have information overload syndrome too. Love the excerpt. Some days, though, happiness seems a worthy enough goal.

  3. much less profound but pretty freakin funny was conan's address at dartmouth:

  4. I have never heard of this person.

  5. Quite so - I have read Beloved and found it to be one of the most moving as well as disturbing novels I have ever read and really the only one that came anything close to conveying the horror of slavery.

  6. I love that excerpt. I find it interesting how differently people interpret that phrase "pursuit of happiness". It seems that some people take it to quite literally mean that it is the government's resposnsiblity to make their life happy.

    I will say, that I am still stewing a bit that Rutgers paid Toni Morrison less than they paid Snooki. Speech for speech, they got a better value for their money with Toni.

  7. "Happiness" is not a very well-defined term. It can mean so many things to different people. I'd never thought of it in the way Morrison expressed it, but it's a very good point.

    Tossing It Out

  8. Ms. Morrison's brilliant, and her words-- strikingly beautiful, always inspirational.
    (And I totally relate to your first paragraph.) ;)