Things I Like

Unusual Advice

The following excerpt from a graduation speech delivered at Cardigan Mountain Middle School in 2017, by Chief Justice John Roberts, recently caught my attention.

Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.1

A mother living 237 year earlier wrote similar advice to her son, who was around the same age as the middle-school audience addressed above.

These are time in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or in the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by the scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.2

These two exhortations strike me similarly by acknowledging how difficulties can uniquely and powerfully form good, virtuous character. No one wishes for hardship, but when it comes, you can remember that it is an opportunity. Here at Give Me Joy, we look for the beautiful extraordinary in the difficult ordinary. We make lemonade from lemons on hard days. We take obstacles blocking our path and turn them into stepping stones to something new.

When Frodo faced was with extraordinary difficulties, Gandalf said, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us,” advice that both Chief Justice John Roberts and First Lady Abigail Adams express is various ways.3

So, when hard times come or the unexpected arises, what will you do?


1 Eicher, Nick. “Legal Docket: Unusual advice from Chief Justice John Roberts.” The World and Everything in It, WNG, 23 July 2018,

2 McCullough, David. John Adams. Simon and Schuster, 2002. Print.

3 Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. Houghton Mifflin Books, 1994. Print.

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