George Saunders

  • Aired:  04/24/14
  •  | Views: 13,738

George Saunders chats about the often-overlooked power of kindness and his book, "Congratulations, by the way." (7:16)

>> Stephen: WELCOME BACK EVERYBODY.

THANKS SO MUCH.

FOLKS MY GUEST TONIGHT IS ANAWARD-WINNING AUTHOR WITH A NEW

BOOK ABOUT THE VIRTUES OFKINDNESS.

WHICH MEANS I GET TO YELL AT HIMAND HE'S JUST GOING TO SIT

THERE.

PLEASE WELCOME GEORGE SAUNDERS.

( CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ).

HEY, GEORGE, GOOD TO SEE YOUAGAIN.

THANKS FOR COMING BACK.

>> MY PLEASURE.

>> Stephen: FOR THOSE WHODON'T KNOW YOU'RE A McCARTHUR

GRANT RECEIVEEE AND ABESTSELLING AUTHOR.

AND A NEW ONE IS CALLED--CONGRATULATIONS, BY THE WAY,

IT'S SOME THOUGHTS ON KINDNESS.

THIS STARTED OFF AS A SPEECH YOUGAVE AT SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY, A

COMMENCEMENT?

>> YES.

>> Stephen: SO SELL ME ONKINDNESS.

( LAUGHTER )IT GETS GREAT PRESS.

IT GETS GREAT PRESS, OKAY.

DON'T GET ME WRONG, GOT A GREATPUBLICIST.

WHAT'S IN KINDNESS FOR ME?

( LAUGHTER ).

>> WHEN I WAS WORKING ON THESPEECH, I WAS KIND OF BLANKED

OUT.

I THOUGHT YOU HAVE A ROOM FULLOF YOUNG KIDS THAT ARE

IMPATIENT.

WHAT CAN I SAY THAT'S REALLYURGENT?

I LOOKED BACK AND SAID IN ALL MYLIFE WHAT DO I REGRET?

AND THERE WASN'T THAT MUCHACTUALLY.

( LAUGHTER )NO, LIKE THE LITTLE

HUMILIATIONS-- YOU CAN FORGO ALLTHAT.

BUT THERE WERE A HAND FULL OFTHINGS THEY REALLY REGRETTED AND

THEY ALL HAD TO DO WITH MOMENTSWHERE SOMEBODY NEEDED ME TO BE

KIND TO THEM OR STEP UP AND IDIDN'T FOR WHATEVER REASON.

SO I WROTE ABOUT ONE PARTICULARGIRL IN OUR MIDDLE SCHOOL CLASS

WHO WAS KIND OF AN OUTCAST.

>> AND TRIED TWO OR THREE TIMESTO HELP HER AND THEN I KIND OF

CHICKENED OUT. I HAD THAT FEELING WHEN SOMEBODY IS

DROWNING AND YOU GO TO HELP ANDYOU GO THIS COULD GET UGLY.

AND I KIND OF BAILED ON HER.

>> Stephen: I'VE NEVERACTUALLY DONE THAT TO SOMEONE.

( LAUGHTER ).

>> I RECOMMEND IT.

NO, NO, NO.

BUT-- SO SHE WAS KIND OF A NICEGIRL, AND AT THAT TIME I WAS A

PRETTY STRONG CATHOLIC, AND IIDENTIFIED CLOSELY WITH THAT

KIND OF 70s IDEA OF JESUS ASBEING SO COMPASSIONATE THAT HE

WAS COMFORTABLE ANYWHERE.

AND I THOUGHT, YEAH, I COULD DOTHAT.

>> Stephen: DID YOU HELP HEREVER?

>> WELL, I TRIED.

I SORT OF MADE A FEW ATTEMPTS,BUT YOU COULD SEE THIS HAD

PROBABLY HAPPENED TO HER BEFOREIN OTHER SCHOOLS, AND SHE WAS A

LITTLE LEERY AND REALLY WASN'TTHAT EAGER TO BE HELPED.

SO AT THAT POINT, AT SOME POINTI JUST SAID, YEAH, I'M NOT GOING

TO DO THAT.

AND I COULD SORT OF FEEL MYSELF FALLING AWAY FROM THAT IDEA

OF JESUS I HAD IN MY MIND WHICHI THINK IS WHY I REMEMBERED IT

ALL THESE YEARS LATER.

>> Stephen: SO YOU REGRETTHAT VERY MUCH.

HOW DID MIDDLE SCHOOL GO FORYOU.

>> PRETTY GOOD.

>> Stephen: SO ( BLEEP ) HER.

NO, NO, LISTEN, BUT IT'S AJUNGLE OUT THERE IN MIDDLE

SCHOOL.

IT'S A JUNGLE.

IT'S KILL OR BE KILLED.

I MEAN, HERE'S MY-- HERE'S MYPROBLEM WITH YOUR-- WITH

KINDNESS, GEORGE.

IF EVERYONE TRIES TO BE KIND,OKAY-- LET'S SAY WE ALL TRY TO

BE KIND, AND ONE GUY STAYS ADICK, OKAY, WE'RE ALL SUCKERS.

AND HE TAKES ADVANTAGE OF US.

OKAY?

I FOR ONE DON'T WANT TO GET TOST. PETER AT THE PEARLY GATE AND

SAY, "OH, YEAH, YOU WERE KIND TOPEOPLE BUT YOU WERE A SUCKER AND

SOMEBODY ABUSED FOOD STAMPS.

GO TO HELL."

>> YOU MAKE A GOOD CASE.

>> Stephen: THANK YOU.

>> I WAS COMING HERE TO PROMOTETHE KINDNESS BOOK AND I WAS ON

THE NEW JERSEY TURNPIKE AND IGET TO THE TOLLBOOTH AND I GET

INTO THAT LITTLE THING, THATLITTLE KIND OF-- AND THE GUY

COMES OUT AND DROPS A CONE RIGHTIN FRONT OF MY CAR.

>> Stephen: A COMB?

>> A CONE.

AND HE SAID, "YOU GOTTA GOBACK."

SO I LOOKED BACK AND IT'SFREEZING RAIN.

IT'S NIGHT.

THE CARS ARE, LIKE, SIX OR SEVENCARS ARE BEHIND ME.

SO I THINK, YOU KNOW, INVOKEKINDNESS.

SO I JUMP OUT OF THE CAR AND IGO UP TO HIM AND SAY IN MY BEST

NEW AGE VOICE, "SIR, I'M NOTSURE THIS IS THE BEST DECISION

GIVEN THE CONDITIONS."

AND HE GOES, "I DON'T GIVE ACRAP.

I'M GOING HOME."

SO I THOUGHT THIS IS A-- YOUKNOW, A REALLY GOOD KINDNESS

CASE.

I SAID, "IF YOU DON'T MIND, ITHINK IT'S NOT EVEN IN YOUR

INTEREST."

HE SAID, "I'M GOING HOME."

AND HE WALKED OFF.

SO THAT'S A CASE WHERE I-- WHATI WANTED TO DO --

>> Stephen: HE DROPPED THECONE IN FRONT OF YOU IT WASN'T

GOVERNOR CHRISTIE, WAS IT?

( LAUGHTER )( APPLAUSE ).

>> NO, I DON'T THINK IT WAS HIM.

>> Stephen: SO BEING NICE ISNOT KIND.

>> IN THAT MOMENT I WANTED TOSAY SOMETHING REALLY CUTTING TO

HIM.

>> Stephen: WHAT WOULD YOUHAVE SAID?

>> I CAN'T THINK OF IT BECAUSEI'M SO KIND.

( LAUGHTER )YOU.

>> Stephen: TEACH AT SYRACUSEUNIVERSITY.

>> Stephen: I DO.

DO YOU HAVE TENURE?

>> I DO.

>> Stephen: WHY ARE YOU KINDSTILL?

YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE KINDANYMORE?

YOU COULD BE A COMPLETE MONSTERAND NO ONE WOULD DO ANYTHING TO

YOU.

>> I HAVE THE SWEETEST STUDENTSEVER-- WHY NOT BE NICE?

>> Stephen: YOU SAY BECOMINGKINDER HAPPENS NATURALLY WITH

AGE.

HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN GRUMPY OLDMEN?

>> YEAH, I--( LAUGHTER )

I GOT A FEW E-MAILS-- "YOUSHOULD MEET MY FATHER-IN-LAW.

YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RETALKING ABOUT."

FOR ME I THINK WHAT HAPPENS ISYOU GET OLDER, YOU HAVE LESS

ENERGY.

SO IT TAKES A LOT OF ENERGY TOMAINTAIN YOUR NEUROSES AND

HATRED.

I THINK AS YOU GET OLDER YOU'RELIKE I WISH I COULD STILL BE

HATEFUL, BUT I'M TOO TIRED.

( LAUGHTER )YOU HAVE KIDS.

AND YOU SEE THE WAY THE WORLDWORKS ON PEOPLE AND I THINK

YOU-- I THINK ACTUALLY THE DUSTKIND OF SETTLES.

IN MY EXPERIENCE YOU SORT OF SEETHAT LEARNING TO BECOME MORE

SYMPATHETIC AND LOVING ACTUALLYIS REALLY WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT.

ALL THE OTHER STUFF OF KIND OFJUST DUST, YOU KNOW?

>> Stephen: THE CENTRALMESSAGE TO STUDENTS IS STRIVE

FOR KINDNESS.

>> YES.

>> Stephen: IS THAT BECAUSETHAT'S MORE REALISTIC FOR

GRADUATING SENIORS RIGHT NOWTHAN STRIVING FOR JOBNESS?

( LAUGHTER )( APPLAUSE ).

( CHEERS )>> IT GIVES THEM SOMETHING TO DO

WHILE WAITING FOR THEIRREJECTION LETTER.

>> Stephen: OR WAITINGTABLES.

WHEN HAS KINDNESS WORKED FORYOU?

>> FOR ME.

>> Stephen: WHEN DID IT PAYOFF?

IT DIDN'T PAY OFF FOR THE GUYWITH THE CONES.

>> NOT SO MUCH.

>> Stephen: THE GIRL INMIDDLE SCHOOL.

>> YOU SHOULD SEE THE THINGS ILEFT OUT OF THE SPEECH.

THOSE WOULD HAVE BEEN AGRADUATION BUZZ-KILL.

DON'T KILL A GUY.

>> Stephen: DID YOU KILLSOMEONE?

>> NO.

>> Stephen: OKAY, BUT THAT'SOUT THERE NOW.

WHEN HAS KINDNESS WORKED FORYOU, GEORGE?

>> IT WORKED WHEN I WAS THERECIPIENT OF IT.

>> Stephen: OKAY.

( LAUGHTER )( APPLAUSE )

GIMME, GIMME, GIMME.

THE MESSAGE IS BE KIND BECAUSEI'M RIGHT HERE.

( LAUGHTER )IF YOU CAN THINK OF ONE TIME YOU

WERE A NICE GUY, PLEASE COMEBACK.

GEORGE SAUNDERS.

IT'S A GREAT BOOK.

IT'S A WONDERFUL SPEECH.

IT'S CALLED "CONGRATULATIONS."

BUY IT FOR EVERY GRADUATE.

THEY'LL LOVE IT.

WE'LL BE RIGHT BACK.

( LAUGHTER )( APPLAUSE )

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