August 3, 2013

One More Graduation Speech - Erring Towards Kindness

A few months back in what - I am embarrassed to say! - was my last blog post, I wrote about a few of my favorite graduation speeches and harvested some of the thought-provoking wisdom being dispensed to college graduates.

Short declaratory sentences of wisdom.  Like "Wear Sunscreen."  Like "This Is Water."

Today's New York Times featured a graduation speech recently given by George Saunders at Syracuse University this year.  It could be titled, Tending Towards Kindness.  Like the other two, this is going in my great speech pantheon.  Welcome to the party George!

His speech contains a wonderfully put kernel of universal truth.  And great wisdom.  Which is why I wanted to share the full speech here.  

Some snippets are below:

"What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded...sensibly.  Reservedly.  Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope:  Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

Its a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I'd say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be be kinder.

*   *   *
Why aren’t we kinder?
Here’s what I think:
Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian.  These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me).
Now, we don’t really believe these things – intellectually we know better – but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.
*   *   *
Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up.  Speed it along.  Start right now.  There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really:selfishness.  But there’s also a cure.  So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf – seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life."

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