Advice to Graduates: Be Kind!

Photo by Julie T Farbarik

It’s the Tuesday after Memorial Day once again, and a child you know has either graduated very recently or is just about to!  Whether you’re a parent, educator or otherwise, this is the perfect opportunity to give advice!

As a grown-up, it’s always fun take stock of who we are now compared to who we were back then. That’s just what Mary Hofstedt, blogger for Challenge Success, did last July. She took the time to ask 50 friends and family members for three pieces of advice they would give to their 18 year old selves.

Responses came from people with a wide variety of backgrounds, and they weren’t about what college to attend or which type of job to hold. They focused more on core values: “stay connected to others, work hard on what interests you, pay attention to your health, do things that expand your world.” The one she heard the most was: “Be kind. Even – or especially – when it isn’t easy.”

Similarly, a few years back in 2013, author George Saunders wrote his convocation speech for Syracuse University about how the things he regretted most from his past were not bad choices or embarrassing situations, but times when he hadn’t been kind enough or gone out of his way to lend a hand. He called these events failures of kindness.

“Kindness is hard,” he acknowledged, and trying to be kinder isn’t that clear cut. Yet “some of this ‘becoming kinder’ happens naturally, with age,” which is a bit of a relief for us adults. “It might be a simple matter of attrition: as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish — how illogical, really.” It’s obvious when you think about it, especially for anyone who is a parent or works with children. Like Saunders says, it’s not so important what happens to me anymore, but how my children’s lives turn out.

Part of making sure kids turn out ok involves teaching them to be kind. But passing on the wisdom of kindness to children? That’s no easy task. Unfortunately, any one with experience knows that lectures and punishment don’t work. There’s leading by example, of course, though that grows tired when the kindness isn’t reciprocated.

But maybe that in itself is the ultimate wisdom of adulthood: the kindness we receive as children and then give back as grown-ups to other children may not return to us directly, and that’s okay. Instead of paying it forward, we all take out a loan when we’re young. It works out in the end because kindness is like a ripple, expanding forever outward to impact an area greater than where it began.

Not helpful? Check out our previous blog on Building Kindness.