Town Square

The George Saunders Kindness Forum

Original post made by Tom Cushing, Danville, on Aug 5, 2013

This regular ‘raucous caucus’ column is nominally about politics, but the conversations it sometimes provokes relate to the values and priorities that animate political positions. With that in mind, I’d like to invite readers to take a look at a clever and insightful convocation speech that’s getting a lot of viral play: writer George Saunders to graduates of Syracuse University, where he teaches part-time (noble calling, that). It’s only 1700 words, and it’s here: Web Link

I’m interested in your thoughts – does Saunders touch anyone else’s soul, here? Should we strive to be ‘kinder’ as a central tenet of how we approach the world? For my part, I know that beyond parenting and a deepening love I had feared would evade me, the things in life that give me the most real satisfaction are kindnesses – simple, voluntary touchings of another being’s being. That ‘being’ often shares my species -- but as often, it does not.

Those who know me are aware that I’ve invested significant energies in canine rescue and other animal advocacy. In the kindness game, ‘canis familiarias’ has it all over homo sapiens. And truth be known, in my ‘headhunter’ persona, I’ve gotten (even) more of a psychic kick out of adopting-out stray dogs than placing wayward attorneys in new jobs. What about you? Outside of any immediate intimacies, what core tenets direct your life, or give it meaning; what floats your boat (besides your boat)?

Saunders believes that selfishness, rooted in each of our individual conceits of specialness and immortality, gets in the way of living kindly. That we allow those things define how we set our priorities and see ourselves in the world. Is he right? Is there a fundamental tension between “err[ing] in the direction of kindness” and career imperatives?

I was surprised by his statement that folks get kinder as they age – that’s not necessarily my observation. Some folks seem to live their lives in fear of losing their stuff, or preoccupation that somebody else will try to take it away. Do you suppose it’s easier or more difficult to be kind, as you’ve enjoyed material success – or hard times?

I’ll take that part of his speech as aspirational, and be content if, in case I someday enter that tunnel of light in any sentient state, that I can be “mostly love, now.” But that’s me – what are your thoughts about Saunders’ progression – are you kinder now than at other points in your life? What impels that kindness? What do you hope-for? What do you want people to remember – to write in your epitaph?

‘Kindly’ take the floor – it’s yours to respond.


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Posted by Tom Cushing
a resident of Alamo
on Aug 5, 2013 at 3:09 pm

My childhood/facebook friend Christine Connor has blogged something similar, here: Web Link and well-worth the read. Substitute 'kindness' for 'manners' and you could do waaay worse than to listen to her mother's still, small voice in the back of your head.

You're on your own, however, in the cow-kissing department.

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Posted by C. R. Mudgeon
a resident of Danville
on Aug 8, 2013 at 12:11 pm

I think there is probably some truth in the assertion that people tend to get kinder as they age. Obviously not true for everyone, of course. The idea of "random acts of kindness" also has a lot of merit to it. Being nice to people will tend to result in them being maybe a bit nicer to others, and at some point comes back to yourself as well. Like those ads (I forget the company) where people did little things for others, who in turn did little things for someone else, etc.

I don't think you have to continue to be nice to people who never are nice back. And it doesn't mean being naively nice, either. At some point you also have to stand up for yourself. But giving others the benefit of doubt, and maybe just a bit more kindness than usual, has benefits for all.

I DO think that society has become more self-centered, or maybe the better word is self-absorbed, in recent years. It behooves all of us to think a bit less about ourselves, and a bit more about others.