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Lions Roar : May 2014
school, and they probably won’t make the same mistakes I did. So anything I could tell them they’ll figure out on their own, and they need to make their own mistakes any- way. The only advantage I had over them was about forty years of living. When I looked through those forty years, I found I didn’t really regret that much. But there was one thing that seemed urgent to say. I wanted to tell them that if I could go back in time, there was one thing I really would change—the times in my life when, because of anxiety or fear, I missed a chance to say a kind word or help somebody out. Scan- ning the horizon of my life, those were the deeply regretted bumps in the road I wish I could go back and change. The personal “failure of kindness” you talk about involved Ellen, a girl in your seventh-grade class who was being bullied. You weren’t mean to her yourself, but you failed to be kind to her. Originally, the conceit of the speech was, “What do I remember of being in the seventh grade?” But there really was nothing except this one thing, which stung. When I was a kid, I was a very enthusiastic Catholic, and this was the first time I felt myself fall away from myself. I kind of knew what Jesus would have done in that situation, but in the heat of the moment I thought, “I can’t do that. That’s too hard.” It’s like I was watching myself and was a little disappointed that I had failed in that way. When the speech went out there, I heard from many people who said, “I knew a girl like that too” or “I had a similar failing in my life.” Maybe we all remember when we first fell away from that pure vision of ourselves, and it sticks in our memory. If failures of kindness are our greatest regret, is that because being kind is our greatest aspiration, our deepest heart’s wish? And it’s our greatest ecstasy. Those times when the differ- entiation between yourself and another person vanishes in a kind of spontaneous moment of outreach are deeply, deeply rich. If you cast your mind toward the people in your life who’ve been kindest to you, you feel an incredible rush of warmth and gratitude that never goes away. I dedicated this book on kindness to my grandparents, who believed in me no matter what I did. Not for any objective reason, but just because I was me. They knew me inside and out and nevertheless approved of me. I think that creates a kind of gratitude you never forget. When you’re young and have the feeling you’re loved, you sort of feel it’s the world loving you. The quality of Advice to Graduates (and all of us) 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. 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. ♦ From Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on kindness, by George Saunders, published by Random House PHOTOByDAMONWINTER/THENEWyORkTIMES/REDUx SHAMBHALA SUN MAy 2014 36