Ok, I’ll admit it. I picked a small book this month. I’ve been crazy busy with moving out and setting up a little temporary camp at my parents’ place. It’s crazy to think I’m going to leave the country for three months, all by myself. So I needed a little consolation. And I sought it in this book: “Congratulations, By the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness”.
This book was a gift from a friend when I graduated last year, but stupid old me never read it. The gift was very appropriate as it is a commencement speech by George Saunders which he gave at Syracuse University. It’s a charming little book that is filled alongside the speech with flip-book imagery.
Saunders shares one of his regrets: failure of kindness. He explains why, why we all probably cope with it, and how we can be better. It’s lovely to hear such honesty on a subject like this. Because really, in the end…what will you really regret? – Saunders makes us aware of how easy it can be not to be kind or to be selfish, but also that we can train ourselves to be kind.
Kindness is definitely something I feel that I can improve at. Sure, I am kind to my loved ones, and I am polite and courteous to people I encounter. I think I react to a lot of things in life in the same way Saunders describes his reaction to a classmate being bullied: “Sensibly, reservedly…mildly.” The book is a reminder to practice kindness more. All in all, I think it’s a nice sentiment to preach to graduates to be kind and to better themselves. Even though the book is not really that remarkable in the language or insights or advice. I think it’s still a great gift and a pretty book.
Here are a few passages that I really liked from it:
Still, accomplishment is unreliable. “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.
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 Teresa’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.
Sure I feel like I’ve cheated my way out a bit with this month’s book, but hey . . . it is a book! And it tells rather important lessons too.
*Oh yes, I have been utilising those bookshelves a lot recently in pictures. Just before the nice place with good natural light is gone… :(