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George Saunders's political novella The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil was published by Riverhead Trade Paperbacks in September 2005. He is also the author of Pastoralia and CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, both New York Times Notable Books, and The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, a New York Times children's bestseller. In 2000, The New Yorker named him one of the "Best Writers Under 40." He writes regularly for The New Yorker and Harper's, as well as Esquire, GQ, and The New York Times Magazine. He won a National Magazine Award for Fiction in 2004 and his work is included in Best American Short Stories 2005. He teaches at Syracuse University.
‘Congratulations, by the way’ is a book that brought on its pages a commencement speech given by George Saunders - the work not too long in its duration, but great due to its importance.
On May 11 2013 at the Carrier Dome, writer and Professor George Saunders delivered the convocation speech for the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University. Its transcript became highly successful when it was posted on the ‘The New York Times’ web page, where Saunders simple, but motivating words about kindness managed to arouse the wealth of positive energy in those people who listened to him are later read its speech.
“…So, the second million-dollar question: How might we DO this? How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc?
Well, yes, good question.
Unfortunately, I only have three minutes left.
So let me just say this. There are ways. You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter. Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend; establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition — recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.
Because kindness, it turns out, is hard — it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include . . . well, everything…”
Although it comes on only sixty pages, of which half are the pictures, the author manages to say so much wonderful about the importance of kindness in his work that it can certainly be recommended not only to those who will read for themselves, but also as a wonderful gift for future graduates as a guiding principle for life and a career which lie in front of them.
This is a little book I read in one brief sitting while sipping a Starbuck's grande low fat iced latte. It struck a powerful chord in me, echoing my own experience having arrived at the age of 75. I then got in my car, surfed satellite radio for music, medical advice, whatever, and chanced upon someone being interviewed on NPR. As I listened, I was amazed to figure out that the person being interviewed was George Saunders talking about this very speech!!! Powerful positive reinforcement! I'm going to give this book to my daughters, grandchildren and close friends . . . and read it again . . . and again . . . myself! Patricia Ross
Brief, but the most important things in life are simple. I heard George say of aging that it comes natural, and added that our hardened personal neurosis requires so much energy to maintain that we simply have to let go. It's easy to have his company near your soul.
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Henry James on his deathbed was asked what advice he would give about life. He said 'Be Kind, Be Kind, Be Kind'. This is the message at the heart of the Commencement address George Saunders gave to the Syracause University graduating class of 2014. Saunders opens with the question of what he really regrets about his life. He humorously lists a number of things, and then comes down to a story about a girl he did not befriend who came to his grade school many years. The regret is that he wasn't kind. He goes on to talk about how Kindness is not some external sentimental quality but essential to being a truly integrated and well human being. He speaks about the egoism, the sense of invincibility, the sense of separateness which often characterize the young. And he suggests that as people grow older, know disappointments and difficulties and losses in life they almost naturally become -kinder. He speaks an encouraging, hopeful humane message to the class. What he says to me seems true and correct. But I would qualify it. He makes 'Kindness' seem simple and apparently believes it invariably is. But my sense is that it is a much more complicated virtue, one in which conflicts in decision make it more problematic than he suggests. There are also times when as my father used to say 'You are good, you are good and you are no good.' There is a teaching of the Jewish sages that those 'who are kind to the Cruel will end up being cruel to the Kind.'I think there is Wisdom in that. So while I believe the major message correct here I believe a true examination of the subject would require a much deeper kind of thinking.
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