"to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness"
As I was trying to think of something to share today, I knew I wanted to talk about kindness -- but not something as insipid as "be kind to everyone." Not just because I think we all know we should be this way, but also because I think "be kind to everyone" is something that doesn't even begin to cover how I think we should behave in this day and age. I mean, sure, of course: everyone knows that if someone smiles at you, smile back. If you bump into someone accidentally, say excuse me. Occasionally, let someone in the door ahead of you.*
But those things, for the most part, should be sort of second nature. It's hard not to return the smile of someone who smiles at you. It's the sort of thing that you do without thinking. And these days, I think we need to actually think. Be proactive in our kindness. Maybe even be uncomfortable with our kindness. Maybe even be kind to the point where we actually feel vulnerable.
Anyway, as I was thinking these things, I was also surfing the web -- and happily stumbled upon one of my favourite commencement address of all time, one given by the wonderful author George Saunders to the Syracuse University graduating class of 2013. Here's an excerpt:
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.
Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.
This is absolutely my point: it's so easy to just be nice. What we need to do is go out of our way.
Anyway, since Saunders says this far more eloquently than I ever could, I invite you to read the speech in its entirety here. And let's all think about ways that we can go out of our way. Because at the end of our lives, as Saunders challenges us to do, I think we all want to say we're "mostly Love, now."
* As I typed those words, it suddenly occurred to me that maybe everyone doesn't know those things. If you didn't, well, now you do. Go forth and be kinder.