Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was a guest speaker at the graduation ceremony of the 2018 class of Harvard University. Here are 9 inspiring truths from her lecture.
Intent matters. context matters
There is a difference between malice and mistake. We now live in a culture of calling out and outrage and we should call people out, we should be outraged but always remember the context and never disregard intent.
Above all else, do not lie
At no time has it felt as urgent as now that we must protect and value the truth. The biggest regrets of my life are those times when I did not have the courage to embrace the truth. Telling the truth does not mean that everything will work out, actually, it sometimes doesn’t. Don’t tell the truth because it will always work out but because you will sleep well at night and there is nothing more beautiful than to wake up every day holding in your hand the full measure of your integrity.
Have a bullshit detector
Empty words feel much worse than saying nothing at all. Have a good bullshit detector. If you don’t have it now, work on it. But having that detector means you must also use it on yourself and sometimes, the hardest truths are those we have to tell ourselves.
Tell yourselves the truth
It is hard to tell ourselves the truth about our failures, our fragility, our uncertainties. It is hard to tell ourselves that, maybe, we haven’t done the best that we can. It is hard to tell ourselves the truth of our emotions that maybe what we feel is hurt rather than anger, that maybe it is time to close the chapter of a relationship and walk away and yet when we do, we are the better off for it.
Make the human story the centre of your understanding of the world. Think of people as people, not as abstractions who have to conform to bloodless logic but as people, fragile, imperfect with pride that can be wounded and hearts that can be touched.
Sometimes, telling the truth will be an act of courage, be courageous. Never set out to provoke for the sake of provoking but never silence yourself out of fear that the truth you speak might provoke, be courageous. People can be remarkably resistant to the facts that they do not like but don’t let that silence you from speaking the truth., be courageous. Be courageous to acknowledge that even if there is no value in the position of the other side, there is value in knowing what that position is. listen to the other side. At least, the reasonable other side.
Be courageous enough to know those things that get in the way of telling the truth-the empty cleverness, the morally bankrupt irony, the desire to please, the tendency to confuse cynicism for sophistication.
Be courageous enough to know that life is messy. Your life will not always match your ideology. Sometimes, even your choices will not align with your ideology, don’t justify and rationalise it, acknowledge it.
Be courageous enough to say, I Don’t Know. This might be hard but ignorance acknowledged is an opportunity, ignorance denied is a closed door and it takes courage to admit to the truth of what you do not know.
Change the lies of the world, no matter how small. If you feel a sense of dissatisfaction about a status quo, nurture that dissatisfaction, be propelled by your dissatisfaction, act, get into the system and change the system.
Tell new stories, champion new storytellers because the truth is that the universe does not belong to any one group of people. Everybody’s story is potentially universal, it just needs to be told well.
Change the media and make it about truth. Not about entertainment, not about profit-making but about truth.
Fear of failure
Procrastinating is a form of fear and it is difficult to acknowledge the fear but the truth is you can create anything of value with both self-doubt and self-belief. Without self-doubt, you become complacent, without self-belief, you cannot succeed, you need both.
Fear of measuring up
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination. When you fall into the funk of competition, when you compare yourself with the others, think of the early bloomers and the late bloomers. Your story does not have to have a traditional arch. Whenever you wake up, that is your morning, the most important is that you woke up.
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