May 17, 2011
This is a change for me. I’m not usually asked to speak.
I’m usually asked to be quiet.
And often, to put on some pants.
On an occasion like this, most speakers assume you want to hear some deeply considered truths about life.
I think different.
I think you might want to hear… something totally opposite of serious. How about how Congress would be different if it were run by tiny toy poodles?
Oh, sure. Qualifications for office would stay the same:
But some things would be different.
Instead of sending liquor at Christmas, lobbyists would send out little pink hair bows.
When someone dies, instead of a state funeral, they’d dig a hole in the White House back yard.
And when members wanted to go drinking, they’d skip the bar at the Monocle and just gather around the toilet.
Eh, that’s enough.
My talk today is the first of a new series called the Magis lecture; magis from the Jesuit idea that any act at all can be of service to God.
My dad was a preacher, so it would please him to no end that I’ve been asked to talk about God.
Also while wearing a fancy robe.
However, I don’t think most people in the School of Continuing Studies think, “lecture about God” and then… Ya wanna get Mike Long for that.
For those of you who don’t know, my classes aren’t exactly like church.
I teach writing and PR so of course my education was in… that’s right, physics.
Now the first thing a physics major does is examine the question at hand.
Actually, the first thing a physics major does is try to find somebody who can tell him what it’s like to kiss a girl.
But the second thing a physics major does is to examine the question. And if the question is How do we serve God?, that is usually secular shorthand for How do we best serve others?
Here’s some heresy: I don’t think you begin by trying to figure out what other people need.
Instead, I say, think about what you like to do.
If you enjoy something, you’re going to be good at it, eventually. That’s just how it works. You can’t help it.
And after you get good at it, then figure out who can benefit.
In college, I set out to be a physicist.
Then a comedian.
Then a writer and speechwriter.
Now I’m a writer who teaches.
And what I’ve figured out just recently is that whenever I was doing the most good for somebody else, I was doing something that I enjoyed.
So now I get up in the morning and with a fairly clear conscience about it, I just try to have fun.
This has the advantage of transforming selfishness into practicality—even nobility.
Or as we used to say on Capitol Hill, not only does this thing sound good, it has the extra benefit of actually being true.
Back at Christmas, I was at a party, and a student said to my boss, the dean, Denise Keyes, Why don’t you sit in on Mike Long’s class sometime?
Denise said, “I don’t know what goes on in Mike’s class, and I don’t want to know.”
“All I know is that it works.”
That was a proud moment.
Because not only does it show that heterodoxy can work, but that heterodoxy can work better.
I learned I’m not the only one who looks at things this way. A few years ago, I was writing a speech for a governor, and I said, tell me, honestly, why did you want to be governor?
And he said, first, because I think I have some good ideas, but mostly because this looks like a really fun job.
He turned out to be a pretty good governor.
That’s my heresy, look in and not out.
Milton, considering his own blindness, wrote, “God doth not need / Either man’s work or his own gifts.”
At least that’s what he thinks he wrote. He was blind, he didn’t know.
Telling him he wrote that’s like telling Stevie Wonder his shirt’s dirty.
Well, if you say so…In this life I think God just needs you to be you.
And it turns out you’re a more effective, better you when you’re happy.
If that’s too frivolous a construction for you, consider the difference between interest and obligation. No one ever made great art because they had to.
In great art and great achievement, the joy shows.
And where could it be more important for joy to be on display than when you’re helping others?
When you were in grade school, who would you rather get, the happy lunch lady or the grumpy one?
I am not much for giving advice unsolicited but I will break my rule today. At the risk of quoting the Partridge Family, I say, get happy.
The world is filled with people doing only what they imagine other people expect of them.
They are not having a very good time.
As a result, I’m pretty sure they are not making much of a difference to anyone.
To return to where I began—besides the bit about the tiny toy poodles—How do we best serve God?, consider this other question: If you’re a parent, you’re happiest when you see your children are happy.
If we are the children of a higher power, don’t you think God wants to feel the same happy way about us?
Go have fun.