I just read this lovely, short speech by author George Saunders. He’s addressing the Syracuse University class of 2013 and avoids the typical exhortations and conventional tips on how to be successful. Instead, he discusses his greatest regret: failures of kindness.
“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.” -George Saunders
Go read the whole speech. It’s short, and it’s sweet in the noblest way. And it rings true with me. Moments of regret in my life are almost exclusively a failure to be courageous with kindness. A missed opportunity to encourage, to protect, to listen to someone in their moment of sadness or pain or embarrassment.
We focus too much on “success” and productivity and achievement, but a truly good life is marked by kindness, don’t you think?
After my mom passed away, there was a line of people waiting outside the funeral home for hours just to pay their respect. I was in awe. They didn’t stand in line, though, because of her success in business or leadership in the community or any major accomplishment. They were there because she was remarkably kind, and they had countless stories to tell about her compassion and big heart. I witnessed it all my life, of course.
I vividly remember tiny moments where she pursued opportunities to be kind. A little red-haired boy that she didn’t even know was in tears on a field after a children’s soccer match, and it was my mom who sought him out with a hug and an encouraging word. She would light up with a genuine smile when an acquaintance or stranger walked in to my parents’ photography studio. She listened wholeheartedly. The twinkle in her eyes let you know you were special, that you had her complete attention. People loved the way she made them feel.
She lived a truly great, and too short, life. Kindness may not make headlines, but it makes for a life with few regrets and a legacy marked by the abundant admiration and appreciation of those fortunate to have been warmed by its glow.
Be kind. Be intentional about it. Make it your craft, your calling, your legacy.