Life Advice from George Saunders


More and more I find that it’s hard to tease gratitude apart from having a kind and open heart. Gratitude and kindness are two different things, but often they go hand in hand. I think it has something to do with the fact that when I’m grateful for what I have, it’s easier to let go of the anxiety that distracts me from tuning in to other people and their struggles.

That’s why this commencement speech by George Saunders struck a chord when I read it today.

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.

It’s 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 kinder.

His advice is so simple: be kinder. It’s almost trite. But coming from Saunders, it’s not. I’m slowly working my way through the Tenth of December, his most recent collection of short stories. I can’t quite articulate how his writing wrecks me and uplifts me at the same time. He dives deep into the ugly parts of human nature, but the tender parts too. And in this speech, he acknowledges that being kind is hard. We are naturally selfish people. But the bumps and bruises of life make us kinder, over time, and anything we can do to speed up that process is effort well placed.

Saunders is, of course, much more eloquent than I am, so I encourage you to read the whole thing.

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