Love Made Visible

This year’s commencement address at Northwestern University was given by Stephen Colbert, and it was a fine address. After a lot of fun on a number of subjects, he got to his primary message to the students.

After observing that one’s dreams change over time, Colbert told the students it was important for them to remember that whatever their dreams are, not achieving one’s dream does not make one a loser, and achieving one’s dream does not make one a winner. Elaborating, he explained that after his own graduation from Northwestern, he moved to Chicago to do improvisation. There are few rules in improve, but a central one he learned is this:

You are not the most important person in the scene. Everybody else is. And if everybody else is more important than you are, you will naturally pay attention to them and serve them.

But the good news is you are in the scene too, so hopefully to them you are the most important person and they will serve you. No one is leading. You are all following the follower, serving the servant.

You cannot win impro and life is an improvisation you have no idea what will happen next… And Like improve you cannot win your life.

He went on to say that even when it might look like you are winning – and he described ways it looked like he is “winning” with his show, including that there are many people who are serving him in one way or another – “at its best I am serving them just as hard. And together we serve a common idea.” And a sure sign, he added, that things are going well is that no one can remember whose idea is whose and who should get credit for what.

Colbert went on to tell them that if the goal is to serve others and, together with others, serve a common idea, then each has to determine what is the common idea and who are the people they will serve it with. And in identifying what that is, he observed

You will truly serve only what you love because service is love made visible.
If you love friends, you will serve friends.
If you love community, you will serve community.
If you love money, you will serve money.
And if you love only yourself, you will serve only yourself and you will have only yourself
So, no winning. Instead, try to love others and serve others and hopefully find those who will love and serve you in return.

Service is love made visible. A good mantra for us all to remember.

You can listen to the entirety of the commencement speech here.