SOESD / News
The Last Lecture: To Love, To Serve, To Know
During a trip to Salem recently, I had the pleasure of hearing an audio version of the book “The Last Lecture” written by Randy Pausch. Dr. Pausch was a young college professor who had a terminal illness. In his book, he takes the opportunity to summarize what he had learned in the almost 50 years of his life. His last lecture was to his young children, his family, his students and to himself. As I listened, I paused to reflect on my own life. I too am approaching the end of my professional career (hopefully not the end of my life) and I must ask myself “what would be the topic of my last lecture?”
One recurring question that guides me is: “What is the purpose of humankind?” Over the years, I have formulated answers that seemed to satisfy this question and then a new event or reading or conversation or person would cause me to ask the question again and my answer would change. I even used to ask this question a different way, “What is the purpose of man?” I used to pose this question in a different (and incorrect) way to my high school students. “What is the purpose of man?” I quickly learned that many of the adolescent males would respond simply “well duh… women.” In order to receive more reflective answers, I needed to rephrase the question. Although many students asked me what I thought the answer to be, I purposely didn’t share my answer because I wanted them to come to their own definition.
I believe that questions are as valuable as the answers. And the big questions are definitely more valuable than their answers. So, it is with some reluctance that I share my answer.
After many decades of asking myself “What is the purpose of mankind?” my answer is still being refined, but has been similar to my current answer for two of my five decades. I believe the purpose of mankind is: To Love, To Serve and To Know. This is a difficult creed to abide by, and one I don’t claim to have mastered, but I think it’s a worthy goal to aim for. These purposes are probably encompassed by the world’s religions, but I had to wade through the possibilities for myself.
Although my answers to this question are generalized to all of humanity, in reality my answers are personal to me. As a member of the human race, I can use my answers to guide my thoughts and actions.
“If life is the school, then love is the lesson.” Love can be experienced as a parent, as a spouse, as a child, as a friend, as a co-worker. To love means showing compassion and empathy. It means putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. To love and be loved is the core of humanity. Other organisms have instincts; humans have instincts too but we also have choice. We have the ability to choose whether or not to love. Compassion and empathy are elements of love and choosing to love is the goal. Sometimes, I struggle in choosing to love, but love is always more satisfying and lasting.
I aspire to have an attitude of service. Even before I came to work for their organization in which service is its middle name, I sought to serve. Service to others is illustrated by helpfulness, by honoring those being served, and by valuing work and the work of others. To be of service says that I want to help, that we are equal and we are partners. To be of service is a very high purpose in my estimation. Being of service sustains me.
Learning is a uniquely human trait. The capacity for learning is unique to our species. We aren’t the strongest species, we aren’t the fastest, we aren’t the most prolific, we don’t live the longest; but we are lifelong learners. Our species has learned to modify our environment with shelter, clothing and technology to adapt to all the world’s climatic zones. We can live underwater or in outer space for long time periods. We can learn to work with the earth’s natural systems to not spoil our environment. We can even learn to resolve differences without hatred.
I have always loved to learn. I want to soak up knowledge and be open to soaking up more. The more I know, the more service I can be to others. I chose a profession of which has as its goal to impart knowledge. Facts and information are not the only kinds of knowledge. Knowing how to work with other individuals and knowing how to work with groups is another kind of knowing. Part of learning is also learning about who I am and what my strengths and weaknesses are. There is no end to what we can learn.
My answer to “What is the purpose of humankind?” assumes there is a purpose to life. I believe there is a purpose and that is threefold: to love, to serve and to know. These goals are the guides of my life, though not completely attained, they are the goals I strive toward. As I ponder the title for my last lecture, it would be “To Love, To Serve and To Know.”