One of the honorary speakers at this ceremony was Dr. Terry Platt, a UR Biochemistry and Biology professor whom I seem to see at all notable functions on campus (i.e. he must be a very important guy). His speech, while “read,” was surprisingly engaging. His was a speech of compliment to us as inductees, as he addressed the differences between achievers and nonachievers and what qualities we possess that have gotten us to where we are today. One comment he made that I wrote down (which was actually him quoting someone else) was, “Successful people fail more often than unsuccessful people.” I almost wish he would not have gone on to explain why this was so, because I enjoyed the immediate challenge of reasoning out the paradoxes of that statement. Successful people take more risks. Successful people try more things and therefore have more failures in order to have more successes. It is an interesting conundrum and one to keep in mind as I embark upon my Big Scary Career Search.
During his speech, Dr. Platt told the story of a psychology experiment involving a bell and a marshmallow. Four-year-olds were left in a room with these two objects with the instructions that if they rang the bell, the experimenter would come back into the room and they could eat the marshmallow, but if they waited until the experimenter returned without ringing the bell, they would receive two marshmallows. Obviously some children ate the marshmallow immediately, while others were able to “hold out” for fifteen minutes or longer. (Squirming, fidgeting, and hands-over-eyes were involved.) Platt concluded his story by saying that the results of the experiment itself did not reveal much, but that those children who participated in it then grew up, and their life results are known. Unsurprisingly, the children who could exercise self-control grew up to be accomplished, successful individuals; the ones who rang the bell immediately tended more toward lives riddled with drug use, gambling, and other forms of immediate satisfaction. He then made a statement that bothered me deeply: “Self-control is desirable, if not essential, for success. You are all here today for exercising this self-control.”
Obviously—as he made clear in his following statements—Dr. Platt meant that we, the Accomplished Ones, were able to sit through boring classes (and speakers—ha ha) because that is what was necessary in order to succeed. However, I cannot help but feel that this outright praise of self-control reflects our society’s unhealthy fixation on the trait. Yes, self-control may make you successful, but what about ambition? What about innovation? What about self-motivation? Self-control seems to have a much more negative connotation to me; if you don’t have self-control, you are weak, you are pathetic, you are basically an inferior human being. That is why we despise fat people: if they just had some self-control, they’d get skinny. That’s why we feel contempt for drug addicts: if they weren’t so lazy and self-indulgent and got a little self-control, they could fix their problems. This portion of Dr. Platt’s speech just hit a discordant note with me.
The other honorary speaker was Dean Matthew Burns, UR’s Acting Dean of Students, otherwise known as the college disciplinarian. I found him an interesting choice of speakers—the chapter leaders invited these individuals to speak at the ceremony—and even more so once he commenced speaking. He made an interesting observation—particularly interesting to me, anyway, because I am so fascinated by words and their meanings. He claimed that the word “responsibility” means “the ability to respond.” I have never considered the “root meanings” of the word (response + ability), but when I think of it this way, it brings a whole new aspect to its usage. While many different words insinuate potential responses, “responsibility” is very different from others such as “obligation” or “option.” “Obligation” demands a response, regardless of whether one is able or not, and “option” does not necessarily imply a response/action. I thought this was a very insightful comment, and one I took much more to heart than his final charge of, “You are separated from the community by your achievements but also expected to become part of it by your involvement with this society. So congratulations, but get busy.” Thanks, but I am busy. And so, I would imagine, is everyone else who paid the $70 fee to join this society.