George Saunders on kindness

As spotted on The Dish today, George Saunders delivered the commencement address at Syracuse University on May 11 of this year (the entirety can be read here). It’s an ode to kindness, and begins with a recitation of various unpleasant experiences he has had and doesn’t particularly regret, followed by the one thing he does:

So 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.

Here is his conclusion, which is about as good a commencement speech ending as I expect I will ever see:

So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf – seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.

Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Theresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

And someday, in 80 years, when you’re 100, and I’m 134, and we’re both so kind and loving we’re nearly unbearable, drop me a line, let me know how your life has been. I hope you will say: It has been so wonderful.

Congratulations, Class of 2013.

I wish you great happiness, all the luck in the world, and a beautiful summer.

“please stop fightin’ … please, stop … please”

I’ve never been able to figure out why U2 has acquired the degree of “uncool” status it has. Maybe it’s the legacy of the early few albums, which I haven’t connected with. But gradually, beginning with the Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois-produced The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree, and especially the ’90s electronica-and-dance-influenced Achtung Baby (Eno and Lanois again) and Zooropa (Eno, Flood, and The Edge), they have created some great songs – a few of them masterpieces – that are holding their own. And I can’t think of another band that’s stayed together for over 30 years and continued to grow musically to the extent they have, either.

One of their very, very best is “Please,” from Pop, the album that followed Zooropa. It is in part about The Troubles of Northern Ireland, and never fails to totally nail me… The extraordinary video (below) was directed by Anton Corbijn.

And here is the official live video, recorded in Rotterdam, musically even more immaculate than the studio version…

whirlwind tour of European architecture by night

After watching Daniel Dennett confidently tell me the “True Purpose” of humor, and reading some of his fundamentalist defenders, I was thoroughly depressed. Fortunately, I later came across the video embedded below, which in itself is a magnificent – and appropriately wordless – response to the shabby grey reductionist religion of “evolutionary psychology” (more on that particular talk in another post).

The video is a brief, breathtaking tour of European architecture in 28 buildings, made by Luke Shepard over the course of a three-month trip. A list of them is here, on Luke’s website. On the same page you can find a map with all of these buildings located.