George Saunders gave the commencement address at Syracuse University this past spring and it was recently republished in the New York Times. It touches on the nature of success and kindness.
What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. […]
[A]ccomplishment 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. […]
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.
Franz Kafka, the story goes, encountered a little girl in the park where he went walking daily. She was crying. She had lost her doll and was desolate.
Kafka offered to help her look for the doll and arranged to meet her the next day at the same spot. Unable to find the doll he composed a letter from the doll and read it to her when they met.
“Please do not mourn me, I have gone on a trip to see the world. I will write you of my adventures.” This was the beginning of many letters. When he and the little girl met he read her from these carefully composed letters the imagined adventures of the beloved doll. The little girl was comforted.
When the meetings came to an end Kafka presented her with a doll. She obviously looked different from the original doll. An attached letter explained: “my travels have changed me… “
Many years later, the now grown girl found a letter stuffed into an unnoticed crevice in the cherished replacement doll. In summary it said: “every thing that you love, you will eventually lose, but in the end, love will return in a different form.”
For me there are two wise lessons in this story: Grief and loss are ubiquitous even for a young child. And the way toward healing is to look for how love comes back in another form. - May Benatar
i was making a lot of mistakes and then my archery instructor said:
“you make mistakes because you’re focusing on the target and not on your actions”
and i was like woah
thanks for giving me the best life advice i’ve ever gotten
This is a good thing for me to remember today (I’ll tell you later). It’s also verrrry Stoic; semi-recently I read this book via the library and while I felt Irvine’s analysis of Stoicism was a bit lacking in places, I really loved one analogy he kept coming back to (or maybe I just keep coming back to; like I said, it’s been a bit since I read it). He mentions that if you’re playing tennis against a skilled opponent, you can either focus all of your effort and will on beating the other person or on playing the best game you possibly can. Now, if you’re significantly better than the other person, you’re going to win regardless; similarly, if they’re significantly better than you, they’re going to win regardless. And in a sense neither of those outcomes are really up to you; so focusing on what is up to you, namely your own actions, isn’t likely to change the outcome in any drastic way but it will possibly change the way you feel about it (especially if you lose).
Of course, if you and your opponent are fairly evenly matched, we’re very good at feeling like the outcome is now within our control; if we just want it more than our opponent, we win, right? Certainly willpower, persistence, ‘heart,’ whatever you want to call it, that can help. But those qualities are just as present if we’re focused on playing the best we can instead of playing better than the other guy. And if that’s what we’re focused on, we can avoid (one hopes) the mental distress we feel when we lose a point or what have you that can actually tip the balance in our opponent’s favour. Or, in something like archery, cause us to miss the target.
This gives me a whole new depth of meaning for “It’s not whether you win or lose. It’show you play the game.”