Spring is a time for commencement addresses, and I’ve seen a number of good ones recently. This youtube video of professor and NYT best-seller George Saunders’ address on kindness. Of all the lessons to impart on young people starting life, kindness is probably not the most popular idea. Yet, his approach was powerful, and his message is most needed, for those of us who are married or single.
Still, if we are honest, we will admit that living with someone day after day does not always bring out our kindest selves. And so married peeps may benefit from a reminder of the importance of kindness in daily matters.
“Success is like a mountain in front of you that keeps growing. If you’re not careful, it will take up your whole life.” –George Saunders
Saunders shared that looking back on his life, what he regrets most was failures of kindness—the times he responded sensibly and reservedly, but maybe not wholeheartedly. It wasn’t even unkind behavior he regretted but the failure of being kinder than he had been.
The people you remember best are the ones who are kindest to you, he suggests. Maya Angelou, who died recently, has a similar quote:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Why aren’t we kinder, asks Saunders? For three primary reasons:
1. We believe we are central to the universe and our stories are the most important ones.
2. We believe we are separate from the rest of the universe.
3. We believe we are permanent, that death is real for others but not so much for us.
No, we may not really believe these things, but we act as if we do, and it’s only through growing up that we realize none of them are true. I would add that we also fear we will be depleted if we give too much; however, we are often energized by acts of generosity.
If we want to be less selfish, more present, more open, more loving and kinder, Saunders suggests things like education, art, prayer, meditation, spending time with good friends will help in that regard. He says getting older seems to help most people—when we see the uselessness of selfishness and the benefits of love, when we benefit from the help of others, and when we see loved ones pass away and begin to see we are not permanent.
If your goal is to be kinder throughout your life, start now, suggest Saunders. Fight selfishness, and allow it to be replaced by love. He adds that becoming a parent is generally a boost to diminishing the self, as most parents care much more about benefiting their children than themselves.
Married couples who are constantly dividing the work load into two and counting the costs of helping one another will not make it far. Growing in kindness and love should be a goal for all of us. It will take daily effort.
Minimize your future regrets by responding with overwhelming kindnesses, especially to your spouse. How can you make those you love feel cared for and special? How can you be a little kinder to those who cross your path?
Don’t practice random acts of kindness; instead, practice purposeful, routine acts of kindness on a daily basis without waiting for a reward.
Check out the video:
Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for more than 18 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.