An Open Letter to Clemson Business School Students
I hope your summer has started cool and fruitful, relaxing and rewarding. I write mostly to wish you well whether you work, play, travel, sweat or chill this summer, but with the hope that you find some time to reflect and find a bit more of yourself as you journey through college and wherever that is taking you.
Most of you have musical interests, if nothing but listening, and me too. Ours are naturally different as each age must have its own sound I suppose. So, it probably didn’t impact you in the same as me when I learned the other day of the passing of Gregg Allman. He, his band and his sound helped shape my generation of music, and hence, a lot of my younger days in many ways.
And, for whatever all the reasons, I took a little extra time to dig into his unusual life, his varied friends and connections, and his story. As I did, I ran across a little something that struck a chord with me that I wanted to share with you.
Each of us hears a lot about “giving back” and “being part of something bigger than ourselves.” These are themes of mine, and yours too, I am sure. We are Tigers all, too. But, a little more than half a century ago, during his inaugural address, President John Kennedy opined the somewhat famous idea, “ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
One of my intellectual heros and Nobel Laureate, Milton Friedman, promptly responded to the effect, “Ask not what you can do for your country—ask what you can do for yourself.”1 The point is each of us owes ourselves betterment and that our culture is society is made richer, fuller, better, when each of us attains more for ourselves. This is not meant to be a statement of selfishness per se, but instead a path to a better place for all. Work hard, learn, accomplish, and all of that will in turn, as you are better, culture and society is too.
So, what in the world does this have to do with Gregg Allman’s passing? Well, as I was reminiscing, googling, listening, traveling down old dirt roads of my mind, I came across an interview with several members of their band in Rolling Stone, and one quote by Butch Trucks, drummer for the Brothers, snared me right in the heart:
Trucks: We learned very early on that playing music is
a very selfish thing. We’re up there playing for
ourselves first and foremost. If I’m not getting
myself off, how can I expect anyone else to get off on
it? I start with myself then move out to the guys in the
band, and then we start communicating. We kick it into
overdrive and go into places that we can’t go by
And there I reheard the wise words of Friedman. First, make sure you are feeding your own soul. Then, there is ample for others.
The lesson, if there is one, and my advice, should you deem it worthy, is work hard, learning something while you work and play, read something different than your normal habits, find a new mentor, buy a ukelele or harmonica and try to start learning them, take an online class in wood working or computer programming. Imagine a better you, a fuller you, a you with more skills, knowledge, earnestness, resourcefulness, understanding, and happiness.
Here are a few other ideas you might think about, but don’t wait long to start. Maybe just pick one or two, remembering the old Chinese proverb, “finish house, die.”
If daunted, smile. Life is a never ending sequence of confusions, interrupted by very brief moments of enlightenment. Again, remember that saying, “finish house, die.” If you remain utterly daunted, read Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird.
If you want a book and don’t have any access or wherewithal, let me know. I have some to share.
Be safe, inquisitive, thoughtful, and decent this summer. I know you will return to Clemson better, hungrier, and finer tuned for the next track on your playlist.
1 For more please see, for instance, https://churchlayman.wordpress.com/2012/12/25/milton-friedmans-critique-of-jfks-ask-not-what-your-country-can-do-for-you-ask-what-you-can-do-for-your-country noting that a rich discussion is taken from Friedman’s epic book, Capitalism and Freedom , 1962.
2 The entire story is here and I recommend it to you if you want to know more about the band or the famous live album “Live at Filmore East” recorded March 11, 1971: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/allman-brothers-bands-legendary-1971-fillmore-east-run-an-oral-history-20160311