I think a lot about this. Why aren’t we more? What does it take to be? How does ego get in the way?
Author George Saunders (oh, what a fabulous writer) recently gave the convocation speech at Syracuse University. The Sixth Floor Blog of the NY Times reprinted it. Here’s part of it:
Why aren’t we kinder?
Here’s what I think:
Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian. These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me).
As I read this, I nodded, thinking all the while, that a shift in attitude should be so simple. But it’s not. Saunders does say this about kindness and aging, and I believe it to be true:
We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be. We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now). Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving. I think this is true. The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly Love, now.”
How sad that it takes a backward perspective to see life so clearly.
I read about Saunders here, too, and decided I like him as much as a person as I do a writer.
“Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.”
And now I am going to buy his newest book.