Saturday, August 10, 2013

Try To Be Kinder

Oh What a Beautiful Morning

This morning I sat in my meditation garden and basked in the rays of a glorious desert sunrise; and even though graduation season is long since past, I thought about a graduation speech. 

Author George Saunders gave this speech to the graduating class of 2013 at Syracuse University, but it wasn't your typical commencement address that people politely applaud and then promptly forget. Saunders' 10-minute speech went viral- globally viral all over the social media. Over the past few weeks, it has been posted and reposted all over the world, most recently in an article in the New York Times, and it is now going to be reprinted in a book format.

So what is it about that speech that is having such a global impact?

On the surface, Saunders' address seems rather simple. He told those students about to begin their lives and careers in the world that, looking back at his own life, he had only one major regret: 

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

He recalled a childhood memory of a small, shy girl who was severely bullied by the other kids in his class. Saunders didn't stand up for her. He didn't reach out to her. He wasn't kind to her. She moved away and he never saw her again. However, his failure of kindness to the shy, bullied girl stills remains with him; and he counts this failure as one of the major regrets of his life. 

So his advice to the graduates.

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.

And this one little line, this apparently simple little piece of advice, has now struck some sort of global chord (maybe it struck such a chord because we see so little kindness in our world nowadays). Anyhow, it's a good motto for living everyday: 

Try to be kinder.

As I think about it, I'm actually not so surprised that human beings everywhere would respond to this admonition to kindness. After all, every one of the great world religions promotes "kindness" as a primary virtue.  Kindness - that which marks us as being fully human.

The Talmud claims that "deeds of kindness are equal in weight to all the commandments." Saint Paul characterizes "love" as being "patient and kind," and kindness is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. In Buddhism, one of the ten perfections is "loving kindness"- the diminishment of the ego, the extension of self outward in relationship. In Islam, the Prophet Muhammed says, "Allah is kind and he loves kindness." 

The virtue of kindness strikes deep in the human psyche; but kindness is not to be confused with niceness. The two are very different.  I read an article yesterday about a mother's advice to her little girl: "Don't be nice, be kind." Many times people are nice to others in order to get something from them. Paste on a smile and say some nice things in order to win the praise of others. Being nice is rather easy.  

But kindness is harder to come by. Kindness is not an act of the ego. Kindness is a diminishment of self-centeredness. Kindness is an act (big or small) performed on another's behalf. Kindness is an act performed for another's good. Sometimes it takes great courage and sacrifice to be kind - like standing up for a small, shy girl who is being bullied by everyone else. 

So, I guess I would add another piece of advice to Professor Saunders' remarkable speech.

Don't be nice, be kind.

The Dalai Lama says: My religion is kindness.

As I bask in the rays of this morning's glorious desert sunrise, I think to myself: "This is my religion also."


  1. No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. -Aesop This is beautiful Paul, thanks for your wisdom.

  2. You are very welcome. Thanks for your comment, Lewis.