The School of Library and Information Science hosts a hooding for those graduating in the Fall and Spring semesters. It is an important small gathering of graduates and family. I take the opportunity to give “one final lesson.” Here are remarks for this hooding.
Welcome to the last graduating class of the decade. I fear you’re not quite done yet. There is only time for one last lecture.
As I was preparing my remarks, I found myself thinking about global issues. Divided politics, monetizing privacy, the growing specter of artificial intelligence developed outside of social responsibility, growing economic disparity, dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria. A little Ghostbusters humor for you there.
I started to write the now formulaic doom and gloom and your job is to save it message. But, as I learned in a very personal way this semester, this is not how I need to send you into the world. Our communities don’t need you to save them – they need you to inspire them. Our students in the poorest and richest school need an ally to accept them as they are, lift what burdens you can, and let them know they are worthy and important. Our neighbors need a partner and a friend to learn and dream with them. The doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors, and public servants need an expert that not only serves but makes them better. Our elected officials need role models in integrity and trustworthiness.
Just as you don’t need to be reminded that the world can seem overwhelming, neither do our communities. They need a light to shine a way forward, not spotlight challenges.
So here then is my final lesson for you. Fight injustice, fight inequity, fight apathy, but do not be consumed in that fight. No one is served by a librarian lost in despair.
In a recent interview Paul Bloom a Yale psychology professor made a distinction between empathy and compassion. Empathy, he pointed out, is taking on other’s emotions as our own. To be empathetic is to feel the pain of others as our own. Empathy can be exhausting and depleting. It can also be debilitating. Imagine, he pointed out, the oncologist that has to constantly feel the fear of her patients, or the social worker lost in feelings of hopelessness of his clients.
Bloom argues that that doctor and that social work, need to be compassionate, not empathetic. You need to be compassionate and understand the struggles of those we serve but not be debilitated by it. Preserve your optimism and use it to lift up those around you. Your professional responsibility is not to suffer, but to prevent suffering. Your professional responsibility is not to despair, but to bring hope to the despondent. Seek out those in need and remember that what they need is assistance and support and celebration in addition to service and dedication.
Every great librarian I know has a story – a moment when they made a difference in someone’s lives. For some it is the glow in a child who has been shown the best book ever. For some it is the student who passed a class, or their part in a scientific breakthrough. They can be large moments or intimate connections, but they are all anchors. They anchor us to why we do this and an appreciation of the good we do.
Find your moment.