Some Graduation Day-type reading

For those of us in the education field, this is Commencement season, and with it brings the usual blizzard of graduation speeches — a few truly excellent, most okay, and a sprinkling of the genuinely dreadful.

I’m not about to offer the online version of one of these speeches, but instead, I want to share four books for graduates and non-graduates alike that contain a lot of wisdom, guidance, and food for thought.

(Official disclaimer: In the classic teacher fashion, I must disclose that I am hardly 100 percent successful at achieving these goals and objectives for myself. Many of the points raised by these authors remain aspirational!)

Here goes, in alphabetical order:

1. Karen Armstrong, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (2010) — A noted writer on religious affairs, Armstrong offers a mix of faith, philosophy, and self-help in her own 12-step program designed to make the world a more compassionate place:

  • “Learn About Compassion”
  • “Look at Your Own World”
  • “Compassion for Yourself”
  • “Empathy”
  • “Mindfulness”
  • “Action”
  • “How Little We Know”
  • “How Should We Speak to One Another?”
  • “Concern for Everybody”
  • “Knowledge”
  • “Recognition”
  • “Love Your Enemies”

2. Charles D. Hayes, The Rapture of Maturity: A Legacy of Lifelong Learning (2004) — Hayes is one of my favorite writers. I described him in a prior post as “a retired, largely self-educated writer and practical philosopher whose books and essays on finding meaning in life remain hidden classics.”  Here’s the opening to his Preface:

When thoughts of our own mortality begin to crop up with increasing frequency, it’s time to pause and contemplate our legacy. We’re reminded to ask ourselves what of value we intend to leave for posterity. After the tangibles of the estate are settled, what will our successors remember about us? Is there something we can do now that will generate a lasting, positive effect in the lives of our descendants?

Some of the best inspirational and self-help books are written by folks a generation (or two) ahead of us who graciously share their life lessons with their successors. Hayes writes especially for those in the “September” of their lives, but there’s no reason why everyone else cannot benefit from his wisdom.

3. Dan Millman, The Four Purposes of Life: Finding Meaning and Direction in a Changing World (2011) — A neat little book that truly reflects its title. Here are Millman’s four purposes:

  • “Learning Life’s Lessons”
  • “Finding Your Career and Calling”
  • “Discovering Your Life Path”
  • “Attending to this Arising Moment”

Millman concludes with an introduction to his life-path number system that overcame my considerable initial skepticism. I’ve found it to be quite uncanny. How it works, I have no idea.

4. Parker J. Palmer, LetYour Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (2000) — This slim volume is a treasure. Here’s a short passage (p. 9):

What a long time it can take to become the person one has always been! How often in the process we mask ourselves in faces that are not our own. How much dissolving and shaking of ego must we endure before we discover our deep identity — the true self within every human being that is the seed of authentic vocation.

Okay, so perhaps Shakespeare said it more succinctly (“to thine own self be true”), but Palmer does a darn good job of inviting us to seek our calling.

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