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'So be headstrong and listen to others. Be patient and ambitious.' - Philip Chan

PMG FILE PHOTO - Philip ChanWith graduation comes quotations. Lately, I've seen students share inspiration from Oprah and quips from "The Office." Adults read Aesop's Fables and referred to video games.

A good quote is like a poem. It should capture something profound in a concise sentence. This is not an easy task and it bears bad advice.

"Always speak up."

I believe we have an obligation to use our voice, to share our experiences, to question authority for a better world. However, we can't "always" speak. We also have to listen in order to learn, to hear voices that may be overpowered by those who are louder. Listen, then speak.

"Be patient."

Patience is a virtue, but sometimes we need to act. Maybe you need to give someone a reminder, you need to demand a raise, or you need to try something new. Don't wait forever.

"Never give up."

Sometimes ambitions, projects, relationships and other things don't work out. It's important to take care of yourself, so you're not stressed and overworked. But if you're still up for it, keep going.

The problem with advice like this is that the opposite can be good advice too: "Listen." "Ask and you shall receive." "Don't bite off more than you can chew."

What works for one person in one situation will not work for everyone all the time.

Too often, we focus on the extremes. We use absolutes. It's easier to say, "Always do this," "Never do that," than to address a complex idea for which you might have to adopt different approaches in unique circumstances.

Our minds seek simplicity. The world is large and complex, and we can only understand it through our own lens, which often relies on generalization.

Generalizations, like many things, can be helpful in moderation. But let's admit that life is complex. Acknowledge that this Shakespeare quote isn't universal.

I find it fascinating the way we watch celebrities on talk shows and read the books of business CEOs, believing they have uncovered the mysteries of success. Perhaps success is not as simple as they make it seem.

We are not very good at giving credit where it's due. Maybe the success of your favorite celebrity is attributed to hard work, but it is likely influenced by sex, race, socioeconomic background and other factors. No one begins on equal footing, so not everyone benefits from the same advice.

This mindset of absolutes is a very American way of thinking. One that believes in absolute truths and rule of law. One that believes in social mobility and individualism.

By contrast, eastern philosophy like the idea of yin yang, expresses more of an understanding of dualism. Opposite forces are connected and complementary.

Here's my advice: Accept duality, complexity and ambiguity. Judge situations as they come, not by hard rules. So be headstrong and listen to others. Be patient and ambitious. Live a life that's balanced, not dictated by quotes.

Philip Chan is a senior at West Linn High School.

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