Like so many, we were moved by George Saunders’s now-famous address to Syracuse University’s graduating class this year. Its themes rang true, on a universal level. (So much so, in fact, that the address is now to be released as a book of its own.) But Saunders has since talked about the roots of his speech. As Syracuse.com reports, “the lessons from his speech reflect the teachings of Jesus and of Buddhism”:
“I’ve been thinking about this kindness idea for most of my life, I guess,” Saunders said. “[I] was raised Catholic and always loved that part of the tradition. [I] was very taken with, and moved by, the idea of Jesus being infinitely patient and loving. And my wife and I have been studying Buddhism since our kids were little. And kindness – and the reasons for our unkindness – [are] at the center of those practices. Many of the ideas in the second part of the speech are Buddhist ideas, that I restated (and hopefully didn’t mangle).”
The speech, reprinted in the New York Times (which called Saunders’s recently-published short story collection, Tenth of December, “the best book you’ll read all year”), begins with 54-year old Saunders meditating on regret. In it, he ponders some foolish and reckless moments in his early life that, in hindsight, he doesn’t particularly regret. But then he recounts one nagging episode that leads him here:
“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.”
Saunders then asks the questions, “What’s our problem? Why aren’t we kinder?”
Read his dharma-infused response to these questions, as well as his follow-ups—“How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc?”—in the Times’ transcript here.