My talk to Miami University went very well, and there were way more adults (like, old people like me adults, not college-aged adults) than I expected. Turns out I was terrified for no good reason.
I recorded the entire thing, and once I have a chance to clean up and edit the audio, I’ll post it on Radio Free Burrito. Until then, here’s an excerpt from my prepared remarks.
(NB: I write these things to be spoken, to be performed. I don’t know if it translates perfectly to written text, because if I were writing this to be read, I would change a bunch of things.)
There are a very few absolute truths in human existence, but I will discuss a couple of them today, starting with the fundamental truth from which everything else springs: everyone here, and every single human with whom we share this planet, wants to be happy. Pretty much everything we do in our lives is motivated by that desire in one way or another, and that actually works out very well for me, professionally, because I make my living as an entertainer. It’s my job to do my best to make people happy!
Today, it works out for me personally, too, because you are the future of our society, and you will shape the world that I’m going to grow old and have my diapers changed in. I would like that world to be kinder than it is right now, if I do this right, I’ll plant some seeds today that will provide some shade for me to relax in while I yell at clouds. So I hope that you’ll view me as a kind of dungeon master – someone who has logged a lot of hours in this game, can see what’s on the road ahead and offer some idea as to what your choices might be and how you can protect yourself and make friends along the journey. I can’t promise you that I’ll give you the key to happiness (because there isn’t one), but I will give you some conditional bonus modifiers on all of your future happiness rolls.
(That’s a D&D reference. If you don’t know what that means, I’m sure a nearby nerd will be happy to over-explain it to you long after you’ve lost interest. It’s what we do.)
So when I’m not being an actor, I am a writer. These two disciplines compliment each other in interesting ways when I’m discovering and defining a character’s narrative. I need to think about what a character wants in a story, identify who or what is helping or hindering his efforts, how he feels about it, and what he does as a result of those feelings.
If you’re paying extremely close attention, you may have noticed that I just described, in very broad strokes, what life is. Our life is a story, and we are the heroes of our own narrative. We are all starring in the story of our lives. And when we meet and interact with other people, they become characters in our stories, while we become characters in theirs.
I’m technically here today to talk about bullying, but as I worked on this talk, I kept drifting away from that topic, and coming back to these thoughts I have about being happy. When I was your age, I didn’t need someone to stand up in front of me and tell me that bullying is crappy, because I already knew that — I was and am a nerd, for fucks sake, and in the 80s the suggestion that we’d one day hear people accusing people of pretending to be nerds because it was cool was about as likely as carrying a computer in your pocket or people thinking vaccines weren’t a good idea.
So I’m still going to talk about bullying, but I’m going to spend the rest of my time here sharing with you some things I’ve picked up over the years that have helped me find happiness. These things actually go together, because of this other fundamental truth: bullies and harassers are afraid, insecure, and REMARKABLY unhappy. In their stories, as they look for happiness, they haven’t had a lot of time finding it. They feel frustrated, they feel bad about themselves, and the only way they can give themselves a sense of worth and empowerment is to do everything they can to hurt other people.
And I worry a lot because at this moment in time, it is easier than ever to be a bully.
So if we just treat our bullies and harassers with sympathy and empathy, if we could just get them to talk about their feelings while they’re hurting us or harassing us or making our lives miserable because we happened to get seated next to them on the bus the same morning their dad called them a loser for the hundredth time, then bullies would magically transform into fully-functioning people, everything will be great and the cycle will be broken! Yay! I just saved humanity. One Nobel Prize, please!
…yeah. It doesn’t work that way. But understanding what motivates someone to be cruel and hurtful can help us to identify that potential in ourselves, and stop us from becoming the villain in someone else’s story.
And before we can understand someone else, we have to understand ourselves. Before we can even think about caring for another person, we have to take care of ourselves.
I’m going to repeat that, because I think it’s really important: you have to take care of yourself, emotionally as well as physically. Nobody is entitled to your time and attention. And, dudes, I wish I didn’t have to single you out, but I kinda do: if she’s not interested in your time or attention, walk. Away.
If there’s a person in your life who consistently makes you feel bad, that person does not deserve to be in your life. Sure, meaningful relationships take work, but there’s a real difference between working to maintain a healthy relationship and being a minor character in someone else’s story that’s a poorly-written melodrama.
And here’s an important point that I want you to keep in mind: Even though I can now experience full empathy for my childhood bully – I need you to understand that you are NOT RESPONSIBLE for your bully’s feelings. But! Being empathetic gives you a deeper understanding of the situation, and a deeper feeling of hope for the future, as well as a way to live your life at its happiest.
I think that’s one of the reasons that people like me and my friend Chris Hardwick, who are adult nerds now, work so hard to make the entire world a safe place for the young nerds of today. You have all grown up in a world where it is harder to find someone who doesn’t want to talk about Doctor Who than it is to find someone who will make fun of you for loving it. You damn kids today have no idea how good you’ve got it.
But it’s awesome to be a nerd today. It’s awesome to be a person who is massively passionate about something, whether it’s science fiction or basketball or that iPhone game Felicia Day won’t stop playing where you adopt cats for some reason.
Being a nerd isn’t about what you love, it’s about how you love it, and the way a nerd loves something can be really weird to the muggles of the world … but you’ve got to know this, from my voice of experience into whatever it is you kids today have where we old people have ears: if you’re weird, you gotta own that. If someone you know is weird but feels weird about it, you gotta help them own that.
If you’re weird, don’t try and hide it – find people who love your weirdness. And if you can’t find anyone who shares the things you like, don’t worry. They’re out there, I promise you. Right now you probably feel like you’re immortal – and that’s wonderful, so did I. But the curse of immortality is that time stretches out forever, and the moment you’re in right now seems eternal. It’s not. This will all end sooner than you know it, and be a distant memory.
And if someone else is doing something that seems weird to you, and it isn’t hurting anyone – let them be. It seems like these days, it’s easier than ever to be a bully and just get away with it – or not even realize how hurtful you’re being. it’s easy to forget that there’s a person on the other side of the screen. We’re surrounded by online communities and networks where a shitty person can hide behind a fake username and make life miserable for those of us who don’t. And if someone is being shitty to you – remember that being yourself is the best protection spell you can cast, because YOU are always with yourself, YOU have to live with yourself, long after the people you were trying to impress by being someone you were not have moved on, leaving you all alone in the parking lot at the – whatever it is you young people are doing these days that you really didn’t want to go to in the first place.
Look at my old roommate Chris Hardwick – this is a guy who was dumped headfirst into a trashcan full of old lunch spaghetti because he was enthusiastic about comic books and Latin and chess. So he did everything he could to distance himself from the things he loved, out of fear of being ridiculed for it. When I met him, when we were both 18, I could see that there was a nerd screaming to be let out of the cage he was keeping it in. I could see it, because I was doing the same thing at the time. And we’ll both tell you that we were pretty darn unhappy for many years, until we decided to embrace all of those things that people used to make fun of us for, and come out as nerds. And we have no shortage of friends and people who love us for it.
OK, one last fundamental truth of life: you attract to yourself what you put into the world. When you are kind and gentle, you’ll find yourself surrounded by kind and gentle people, and you’ll all be like a tribe of awesome. When you’re cruel and selfish, you’ll be surrounded by jerks, dragged down into an abandoned well of stagnant misery where nobody wants to help you out, because that means they’d be stuck down there alone.
So this is the part where I try really hard to impart some useful advice that you can hopefully apply to your own life, to help you find happiness more often than not, to help you be a more joyful person, and thus put a significant dent in the population of unhapppy bullies of the future.
- Be kind. Not just to others, but to yourself.
- Be honest.
- Be honorable.
- Work hard. Everything worth doing is hard.
- Try not to be the smartest person in the room. Keep learning.
- Always do your best. Your best will vary from day to day and that’s okay.
- It isn’t enough to stand up for yourself. You have to stand up for others.
- Don’t be a dick.
I used to think that the planet was huge and I would live forever. The thing is, the world is getting smaller every year, and we have to share this diminishing space with each other. No one has ever called their parents and said, “My new apartment is awesome! The guy next door is such a jerk I can’t wait to deal with his bullshit every day!” Our lives are really short, and nobody ever used their dying breath to say, “I … I wish I’d spent more time being a dick to people.”
We’re all in this together, you guys, and I want you all to be the most awesome hero you can be in your own story … and I don’t want you to be the villain in someone else’s.
Life’s too short to be Voldemort.
Thanks for listening to me.
Even though I genuinely enjoyed this experience, it was so far out of my comfort zone, I never really felt … well, comfortable. I don’t think I’ll make a habit of traveling around the country to give speeches (even though I’ve already agreed to do it two more times on different topics this year), but I’m glad I did this. I met a lot of students while I was there, and I had a wonderful and inspiring time talking with them. I have a lot more hope for the future today than I did before I met them, which is nice.