What I've Learned

This is a draft of an essay / speech I’ve been working on-- I'd appreciate feedback / ripping it apart:

Alright, so I’ve learned a lot in my 26 short years alive.  It baffles me actually how much I’ve learned, probably more so how I connect what I’ve learned—my knowledge if you will.  If all this learning has given me any discernible skill, it is my ability to see the connections, the relationships, between things.  It’s what enables me to easily go from discussing Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism one minute to Marvell’s use of figurative language in “To His Coy Mistress” the next.

All of that learning, that acquisition of information, facts, and trivia, has taught me one thing above all else. None of that matters—it’s the minutia of our lives.  What’s truly important, what matters most of all, is how we treat others.  Now, I’m not going to try to start from scratch or reinvent the wheel here.  Vonnegut has said what I intend to say already in a voice so meaningful and real that I would be remiss in not stealing it directly from him:  "Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."

So that’s it.  I’ve gotten to my point before I’ve barely started.  I guess you can tune out now, return to your youtubeing, facebooking, or skim what else I have to say.  Or you can indulge me, it’s your choice.

I didn’t always feel this way.  As a kid, I didn’t understand what being kind meant.  It was something I wouldn’t really until I was, well, an adult.  It’s a lesson I regretfully learned too late.  I was an angry child.  I had a terrible, excitable, temper.  I knew what I wanted, and if I didn’t get it, I would make my voice heard in a destructive fashion. 

When I was six, I was responsible for sending my cousin to the hospital one Christmas.  Anne’s two year’s older than me, and generally we got along great.  But that winter, an unseasonably cold one in Dallas, Texas, things went awry.  Anne got on my nerves.  She sinned before me in a way that no one had ever done—she wouldn’t let me on the computer.  For what seemed like hours, she dominated the cool, sleek, entertainment box without even a thought of sharing that time, or that technology, with me.  After an eternity of pleading, crying, and generally being a brat, I couldn’t take her insolence any longer.  I walked over to the table in the playroom and grabbed a small, child-sized chair.  With the fury of a small child scorned, I militantly marched over to Anne in front of the computer, and smashed the legs of the chair against her young, delicate skull.  I don’t remember much of what happened after that.  I doubt if Anne does either, but it has left a mark on me to this day.

In middle school and high school, I was no better.  While the physicality of my aggression wasn’t there any more, the pure nastiness of my being was.  On the surface, I was a nice, easy going, good kid.  Fun to be around, causing little to no trouble.  But behind the scenes I was a bully.  I gossiped about people I hated (people who I was secretly jealous of at the time.)  I coerced my friends into following my lead.  I treated people like toys—items I could take down from their sometimes dusty shelves and play with when it was convenient for me.  My methods ranged from the subtle use of diminutive nicknames to flat out crassness in my public commentary about others.  Once, I even left two good friends stranded outside in the middle of winter 20 miles from our homes.  For the most part, I don’t remember the details. 

I constantly think back on these times-- the moments of which I’m most ashamed.  It’s then when I become paralyzed.  I stop functioning, choke up, and get lost in the broken memories of the past.  Even in writing this, I froze.  For ten minutes I stared at the screen without a coherent word to say.  I know I’ve caused people pain, suffering, sorrowing, but to an extent I will never know.  I’m sorry.

So, it took some time, but thankfully I learned to be kind.  Actually, it’s a lot easier than being mean.  But I’ll admit something to you: I’m still not perfect at it, and frankly probably not even very good at it.  I slip up; I say something biting about or towards someone.  I don’t help others when I know I am able to.  To some extent, I can still be fairly self-centered.  I try though—make an effort.  My thoughts are dominated largely by how I treat other people.

And here’s what I’ve really learned: when you’re kind to others, there is so much possibility in the world.  You will meet so many people.  People who you will want to get to know in every way imaginable.  Treating others well is the best way to make and maintain friendships—not only the best way, the only way.  These friendships can last for a very long time.  It is with these people that you will have your greatest adventures, most sincere conversations, and best movie nights.

Sometimes you’ll meet the strangest people.  Folks who will baffle, upset, and even frighten you.  You may find, however, that these are the people you most want to be around.  That you understand them more than you ever dreamed you could.  Frankly, you’ll probably understand them more than even they think, or are willing to admit, you do.  These loners and sages, these losers and lunatics can and often times will become your best friends.  They will be the very people you can’t imagine your life without.  But you have to start by being kind.

This is not to say there won’t be times when it’s hard.  People will abuse your kindness, mistreat you, and even trample your essence.  But fear not, there will be others who will repay you 10 fold.  Like that friend that you tell a secret too.  Something you might even be ashamed of.  A secret that if was told to you, you would certainly pull away from that person.  Then magic will happen,s he’ll still be your friend the next day.  In fact, your friendship will be stronger and clearer than ever before.  Then you will know the importance of kindness—the people it brings into your life.

Success will come to you in a variety of formats—both real and illusory.  I’m not going to tell you that having a nice house, a good job, and tons of money isn’t real success.  People who tell you that are lying to you.  I mean, who doesn’t want that, right?  But success can be, and should, be measured in other ways.  I would implore you to evaluate your own personal success by how you treat others.  You’ll find that it’s pretty easy once you get started.

Let me leave you with one last secret.  I beg your indulgence.  Please recall I do recognize that I’m still a selfish individual.  So here it is:  I have a burning desire to be famous.  At least, I want to be remembered.  I don’t want this celebrity to come through what I know, my job, or any other traditional sort of fame.  I just want to be known for having been kind.  Excessively kind.  In fact, and maybe you should make note of this for after my death; I would cherish an epitaph that simply said, “God damn it, he was kind.”

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