David Foster Wallace delivered a commencement speech that went viral before that term even existed. It's considered one of the best ever. It's a beautiful speech–particularly so considering the tragic demise of its author–and It's here (and pretty much everywhere by now) but this is not the commencement speech I want to share with you.
It's George Saunders'. Who the heck is George Saunders! Good question, because it's one I asked myself when I first heard about his speech. You can google him, but please do that later.
Right now, read the excerpt I have pasted below. His plain-spoken and common sense advice speaks to something I think is really lacking in today's world. Kindness, as a philosophy and as a concept is severely underrated, and self-kindness is almost laughed at, and that is kinda tragic. We live in a brutal, fast-paced, magnified world, one where people boo and poke fun a whole lot more than they cheer and rally. Kindness goes in the trunk, behind success, status, and achievement, in what makes a good life. What George Saunders says is really nothing earth-shattering, but his advice, to bring more kindness to the world, is unfortunately revolutionary because we lack it so much. I urge you to read it in its entirety here. Here's some of text:
But here’s something I do regret:
In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class. In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be “ELLEN.” ELLEN was small, shy. She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore. When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.
So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” – that sort of thing). I could see this hurt her. I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear. After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth. At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.” And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”
Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.
And then – they moved. That was it. No tragedy, no big final hazing.
One day she was there, next day she wasn’t.
End of story.
Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it? Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.
But still. It bothers me.
So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:
What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.