Joss Whedon on contradictions and conflict

Wesleyan University alum and commencement speaker Joss Whedon (’87) delivered counterculture advice to the 2013 graduating class that has special resonance for startup founders.

“You are all going to die.”

And with that truism, the man behind huge cultural touchstones like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and The Avengers, offered the graduates of Wesleyan University some profound advice on life and navigating its most confusing paradoxes.

Too busy ideating to watch the video? Here’s the critical advice for startups:

You have, which is a rare thing, that ability and the responsibility to listen to the dissent in yourself, to at least give it the floor, because it is the key—not only to consciousness-but to real growth. To accept duality is to earn identity. And identity is something that you are constantly earning. It is not just who you are. It is a process that you must be active in. It’s not just parroting your parents or the thoughts of your learned teachers. It is now more than ever about understanding yourself so you can become yourself.

I talk about this contradiction, and this tension, there’s two things I want to say about it. One, it never goes away. And if you think that achieving something, if you think that solving something, if you think a career or a relationship will quiet that voice, it will not. If you think that happiness means total peace, you will never be happy. Peace comes from the acceptance of the part of you that can never be at peace. It will always be in conflict. If you accept that, everything gets a lot better.

The other reason is because you are establishing your identities and your beliefs, you need to argue yourself down, because somebody else will. Somebody’s going to come at you, and whatever your belief, your idea, your ambition, somebody’s going to question it. And unless you have first, you won’t be able to answer back, you won’t be able to hold your ground. You don’t believe me, try taking a stand on just one leg. You need to see both sides.

Now, do yourself a favor. Stop. Grab a cup of coffee and listen to the entire speech. Even founders need a little worldview perspective now and then.

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