The other week scrolling through my twitter feed I saw the retweet of an inspirational address given to the 2013 graduating class of the University of Syracuse by none other than the American short story & essay writer, George Saunders. If you haven’t already read it, i urge you to.
This speech is given every year by an elected individual, as a way of imparting sound advice to the next generation. The speech has obviously hit a nerve (it did with me), and it’s been reposted and widely circulated which is why it’s gone viral, for very valid reasons.
You may have already read his speech or heard of it, in which case if you are anything like me, it was so lovely to digest that you won’t mind in doing so again.
George Saunders valedictory address to the newly graduated class was based around his regrets. Among all the highs and lows he had encountered throughout his life, he had only regrets that he ‘wasn’t more kind in his conservative, mild way’.
The cynic in me often confuses kindness for gullibility and a surreptitious means to take advantage. I can’t help thinking like that, it’s just the way this Essex girl is made.
As a child I too had an experience that bothers me. At Primary school there was a girl who fell foul of the others. I don’t know why. Even as an adult looking back i can’t see why. Powers of observation were never my strength and they still aren’t. I see what i want to see, always and are usually oblivious to the reality. Like it never went on, yet i knew she was unhappy and never did anything to stop it. I never questioned why or tried to stop it. I am guilty by association. Like George Saunders.
When reading this speech my husband first sprang to mind. He is to my knowledge, the single kindest person I know, who’s generosity of spirit literally knows no bounds and who’s moral compass is permanently set to ‘give’ mode. It’s one of the reasons i love him, however it hasn’t always served his so well professionally and even more sadly with (so-called) friends.
Yet he is far from a push over. I would even go so far to add that he is very self aware.
The line he takes often at those times infuriates me and I can be seen whispering from the wings the things i think he should be saying. I tell him ‘they’ are making a fool of him and taking advantage.
Everytime he tells me ‘they know’. That is not enough i crow…..but maybe, just maybe, he is right. To live like that will not enrich their lives or souls in any way. They may feel like they have ‘won’ but long-term they never will. For we know when we are unjust, unfair or unkind and it stays with you and if you don’t know, you will never know….. and life will have to find a way to make you understand.
Just like George Saunders regretting his conservative kindness with Ellen and me with my old school friend, it never leaves you, so in his words do ‘the ambitious things, but ultimately err in the direction of kindness’.