Go Forth... And Do As Little Harm As Possible
I will not waste my breath today pleading with you not to
go forth. Instead I limit myself to a simple plea: When you
get out there in the world try not to make it any worse than
it already is. I thought it might help to give you a list:
10 things to help you avoid making the world worse than it
One: Bend down once in a while and smell a flower.
Two: Don't go around in clothes that talk. There is already
too much talk in the world. We've got so many talking people
there's hardly anybody left to listen. With radio and television
and telephones we've got talking furniture. With bumper stickers
we've got talking cars. Talking clothes just add to the uproar.
If you simply cannot resist being an incompetent klutz, don't
boast about it by wearing a tee shirt that says 'underachiever
and proud of it.' Being dumb is not the worst thing in the
world, but letting your clothes shout it out loud depresses
the neighbors and embarrasses your parents.
Point three follows from point two, and it's this: Listen
once in a while. It's amazing what you can hear. On a hot
summer day in the country you can hear the corn growing, the
crack of a tin roof buckling under the power of the sun. In
a real old-fashioned parlor silence so deep you can hear the
dust settling on the velveteen settee, you might hear the
footsteps of something sinister gaining on you, or a heart-stoppingly
beautiful phrase from Mozart you haven't heard since childhood,
or the voice of somebody - now gone - whom you loved. Or sometime
when you're talking up a storm so brilliant, so charming that
you can hardly believe how wonderful you are, pause just a
moment and listen to yourself. It's good for the soul to hear
yourself as others hear you, and next time maybe, just maybe,
you will not talk so much, so loudly, so brilliantly, so charmingly,
so utterly shamefully foolishly.
Point four: Sleep in the nude. In an age when people don't
even get dressed to go to the theater anymore, it's silly
getting dressed up to go to bed. What's more, now that you
can no longer smoke, drink gin or eat bacon and eggs without
somebody trying to make you feel ashamed of yourself, sleeping
in the nude is one deliciously sinful pleasure you can commit
without being caught by the Puritan police squads that patrol
Point five: Turn off the TV once or twice a month and pick
up a book. It will ease your blood pressure. It might even
wake up your mind, but if it puts you to sleep you're still
a winner. Better to sleep than have to watch that endless
parade of body bags the local news channel marches through
"Six: don't take your gun to town. Don't even leave it
home unless you lock all your bullets in a safe deposit box
in a faraway bank. The surest way to get shot is not to drop
by the nearest convenience store for a bottle of milk at midnight,
but to keep a loaded pistol in you own house. What about your
constitutional right to bear arms, you say. I would simply
point out that you don't have to exercise a constitutional
right just because you have it. You have the constitutional
right to run for president of the United States, abut most
people have too much sense to insist on exercising it.
"Seven: learn to fear the automobile. It is not the trillion-dollar
deficit that will finally destroy America. It is the automobile.
Congressional studies of future highway needs are terrifying.
A typical projection shows that when your generation is middle-aged,
Interstate 95 between Miami and Fort Lauderdale will have
to be 22 lanes wide to avert total paralysis of south Florida.
Imagine an entire country covered with asphalt. My grandfather's
generation shot horses. Yours had better learn to shoot automobiles.
Eight: Have some children. Children add texture to your life.
They will save you from turning into old fogies before you're
middle-aged. They will teach you humility. When old age overtakes
you, as it inevitably will I'm sorry to say, having a few
children will provide you with people who will feel guilty
when they're accused of being ungrateful for all you've done
for them. It's almost impossible nowadays to find anybody
who will feel guilty about anything, including mass murder.
When you reach the golden years, your best bet is children,
Nine: Get married. I know you don't want to hear this, but
getting married will give you a lot more satisfaction in the
long run than your BMW. It provides a standard set of parent
for your children and gives you that second income you will
need when it's time to send those children to Connecticut
College. What's more, without marriage you will have practically
no material at all to work with when you decide to write a
book or hire a psychiatrist.
"When you get married, whatever you do, do not ask a
lawyer to draw up a marriage contract spelling out how your
lives will be divvied up when you get divorced. It's hard
enough making a marriage work without having a blueprint for
its destruction drawn up before you go to the altar. Speaking
of lawyers brings me to point nine and a half, which is: Avoid
lawyers unless you have nothing to do with the rest of your
life but kill time.
And finally, point 10: smile. You're one of the luckiest people
in the world. You're living in America. Enjoy it. I feel obliged
to give you this banal advice because, although I've lived
through the Great Depression, World War II, terrible wars
in Korea and Vietnam, and half a century of cold war, I have
never seen a time when there were so many Americans so angry
or so mean-spirited or so sour about the country as there
Anger has become the national habit. You see it on the sullen
faces of fashion models scowling out of magazines. it pours
out of the radio. Washington television hams snarl and shout
at each other on television. Ordinary people abuse politicians
and their wives with shockingly coarse insults. Rudeness has
become an acceptable way of announcing you are sick and tired
of it all and are not going to take it anymore. Vile speech
is justified on the same ground and is inescapable.
My sermon is done.
May 27, 1995