Chief Justice J.O. Wilson.
June 1, 1967

Chancellor; Mr. President; Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen:

This is a great and proud day in my life. It is also a time for humility and a time for me to sing a little hymn of praise and thanks to the University which has honoured me and to the fair Province which has nourished me and filled so many of my days with wonder and delight.

When I was a young man in the army, my colonel was given the D.S.O. I thought at the time, "Well, he may not deserve it, but the Regiment does". I regard the distinction conferred on me today in much the same light - as an honour awarded to me on behalf of my good friends on the bench of this Province, whose works and learning have earned that honour. On their behalf and on my own I am proud and grateful.

Surrounded as I am by men to whom university degrees are commonplace, I hesitate to boast of mine. But I think I may say that mine is in one way unique, I am almost certainly the only person who entered this University as a freshman in 1919 and won his first degree 48 years later in 1967. I refuse, however, to accept the analogy offered by one of my friends, who compares my receipt of an honourary degree to Caligula’s appointment of his horse as consul.

I have spoken of my debt to British Columbia. To those of you who may be tempted to leave it, or to leave Canada, I say look well about you before you go. There is a lot to do and a lot to enjoy here. This is one of the last great uncrowded lands on our planet. A man may still find within our boundaries the glorious solitudes of river, lake, mountain and forest, so fast disappearing in other parts of this continent. Pleasures are open to all of us here which are only available to millionaires in other lands. If you stay here with us you have opportunities not just to develop this country but to ensure that development is sane so that the land is kept unspoiled. Let not the worship of progress dull us to that older elemental feeling that we all have for beauty and for the wilderness. Let us, while we search for wealth, remember the blasted valleys of Wales, the smoky towns of Pennsylvania and the desolation which is the Ruhr. Let us not dam too many streams, lest a future generation damn us. Let us not tear up too many orchards to make room for factories. Let us not unthinkingly replace the fat, lovely farms of our Fraser Valley with unlovely and ill-planned industrial and housing developments. Let us not make into sewers our sparkling rivers, nor pollute the pure air which blows in from the Pacific. Let us take stock of our heritage and lovingly husband and use it so that it will afford us not just a living, but a place fit for living in.

One of the freedoms and glories of this country is that you are free to leave it. But greater glory will follow if the young men and women who have benefited from the education provided by this country will remain to serve and improve it. Let me not put this as a duty but as an opportunity. Where will you find a better place to serve and enjoy? It is no hardship to remain in Canada, it will give you the greatest chance on earth.

I am this year a little older than the 20th century. I was born in a horse age and have lived into a rocket age. I am at an age when many of my contemporaries devote much of their time to viewing with alarm. I find much to be alarmed about, much to worry about, but nothing to despair about unless I accept the final and ultimate despair - despair of humanity - an acceptance of the conviction that the bad outweighs the good in man and must triumph.

We have in our hands weapons never dreamed of fifty years ago. We can destroy our race as quickly and thoroughly as we might destroy a wasp’s nest. On the other hand it is, for the first time in history, physically possible, by a proper pooling and distribution of the world’s resources, to feed, clothe and house all the human family and to provide it with the mechanical aids which form part of modern civilized living. It is also possible so to control the growth of that family that need shall not outrun supply. These tremendous things, unthinkable thirty years ago, are within our grasp. The field is ready for the tilling, the seed is in our hands. What is lacking, of course, is that thing most difficult to achieve, full human co-operation. We have largely triumphed over matter, we have still to win a victory over ourselves.

That victory will not be won by shrill demands or by snarling denunciations. We must not quarrel over the fruits of this new age like a set of ill-trained children bickering over new toys. We must not allow these cold winds of change to induce a neurosis. We are in a revolution but we must take charge of the revolution and not let the revolution take charge of us.

All that I can recommend are the things my training has led me to believe in - discipline, restraint, intelligent and tolerant discussion. And, indeed, it is the necessity for discipline, restraint, good will - good manners, if you like, that is the theme of my talk. You cannot convince people whose help you must have by denouncing them as scoundrels. You cannot change the minds of other nations by breaking the windows of their embassies. One good, earnest debate is worth more than a thousand declamatory protests.

It has been said that there are two ways of looking at every problem. A strong-minded friend of mine says, "Of course there are two answers to every question, my answer and the wrong answer". The fact is that there are often not just two but a dozen possible solutions to a problem and that nine times out of ten the only solution of a major political or economic problem which can practically be effected is a compromise between extreme views.

I think of the United Nations. I think of its interminable and often fruitless debates. But I think again of what it has achieved and of what would almost inevitably have happened to us over the last twenty years if there had been no United Nations.

Human nature is not perfectible but human beings are teachable and trainable. We must, as the young say, keep our cool. It is better to propose than to demand; insults do not assist negotiations, riots prove nothing and achieve nothing except cruelty and bitterness. Our civilization, our rule of law, is not perfect, but it is a hard-won thing built over the centuries by statesmen, philosophers and saints, achieved by patience, understanding, courage and endless struggle. It is too precious and valuable a structure to be destroyed either by violence or neglect. It took a thousand years to build German civilization, it took only ten years to impose on that country a rule of barbarism.

The rule of law must and will prevail. The structure of our society must not be torn down but must be refurbished and added to by the one sure, if difficult, process known to us, democratic debate and the decisions of the majority. The right must prevail not by shooting its opponents but by convincing them.

We take freedom for granted, as part of our birthright, but true freedom in this world is a rare growth presently confined to a few fortunate islands, Canada among them. John Donne has said that no man is an island unto itself. This, in our shrunken world, is true of nations and we must be prepared not only to defend our freedom but, both in charity and in self-interest, to share our freedom with those who want and know how to use it. We can't export freedom, we can only demonstrate that it succeeds at home. And we can, to the limit of our abilities, export freedom from want.

Why do I cite these obvious truisms? Because it is the truisms that are usually overlooked in the pursuit of progress by the easy way as if anything of worth could be bought on the cheap.

And why do I repeat these platitudes, as you may think them, at the risk of appearing to resist the natural discontent of the young? It is because the graduates of this University are young, because they are educated, because they are privileged to share the greatest of all gifts, the gift of learning, and because they will soon possess this land, that I ask them to consider their responsibility for their fair and lavish estate. They are inheriting here one of the largest and most valuable prizes ever offered to men at any time or place. They are also inheriting novel and cosmic problems outside all past human experience, whose solution cannot be postponed. Yours is the generation that must find the solutions and without them civilization, perhaps man himself, cannot long endure.

Can we survive? This is the primary, inescapable question, inescapable yes but distorted and confused by a quarrel of ideologies, none of them meaning very much, and by the sudden discovery that man can now escape most of his ancestors' toil and misery. Are we going to lose this chance to survive by our inability to divide, in reasonable justice, the fruits of our scientific ingenuity? From your generation and from no other, must come the answer and not long from now.

For, mark you, there will be no ease, no satisfaction, probably no peace and possibly no survival if the division of the fruit continues to be balanced in favour of the few rich peoples against the swarming and desperate poor. If the world is to continue to be split between the privileged white and the impoverished coloured races, then indeed you may face the ultimate Armageddon in which all your youthful hopes will perish and all your training will be lost.

I have spoken of your responsibility. It is greater than you think and greater, perhaps, than you can yet know. For in the kind of complicated, inter-dependent and brittle living ways now being imposed by the technical machine - clearly the management of the social machine can be entrusted only to skilled hands and minds like yours. It is no longer, as in earlier times, a job for amateurs and apprentices. By necessity, therefore, willy nilly, you must accept the burdens with the rewards of an unknown and unknowable future.

However that future may turn out, it will be unmanageable under any system of government without discipline - discipline enforced by the strong and ruthless, or self-enforced by free men. Discipline is not just essential to a society, it is in fact what society means. Even those who, disgusted by current society, decide to contract out of it, must discipline themselves to the penalty of that decision. Isolation, passivity, indifference, even nihilism, are disciplines of a sort. But I would hope that most of you will accept the larger, harder discipline of leadership among a people in urgent need of it.

This country was not carved out of the wilderness, this University was not built and your education was not provided by men who expected something for nothing in denial of nature's primary law which no man can defy. For above men’s written statutes and running further than the Queen's writ is a mandate inherent in the scheme of things entire. It can be violated only at the cost of man and womanhood, the surrender of the human personality, and if that is surrendered what will be left?

There is, of course, the other danger to the human personality arising from too rigid a discipline, from too coldly schematic a rule, the danger so graphically illustrated by Orwell and by Aldous Huxley. You cannot have freedom without discipline, but you can have discipline without freedom. That is why we must be eternally on guard, not against new ideas, for we must welcome and explore them, but against the implementation of those new ideas without the fullest thought and discussion not just of whether we ought to do the new thing, but of how we shall do it.

I have given you the warning of an old man who does not know the answers but professes to know some of the rules and who was once young, like you, in this same University, and filled with your dreams, your doubts and your healthy discontent. I have pointed out some red lights which I have encountered in my life and you will in yours. But there are also green lights. Do not take this speech as an old man’s cowardly resistance to change and to action. I have presumed only to caution you about the methods of choosing and implementing necessary and doubtless painful changes. I invite change and action and I know I am going to get it whether I like it or not. We of our generation have trained you to be the elite, the thinkers and doers who will remake our society and our world. We have bonussed you to upset us. Don't talk or listen to talk of lack of opportunity or of challenge in your time and country. Never were there such dangers, but never were there such opportunities, or so much for educated men and women to do. Perhaps you have not all been born with silver spoons in your mouths but you go forth from here with something much more valuable, the golden wand of knowledge. Use it freely, courageously and wisely to better yourselves, to better your country and to better the world. The agenda before you is full and overflowing, the day of decision nears high noon and before the sunset you are called to accomplish a prodigy. I trust and envy you.