The Failures of Kindness

“The failures of kindness” was a phrase that was coined by George Saunders when he gave the convocation speech at Syracuse University in 2013. That phrase resonated with me and allowed me to think about my own personal failures of kindness in my upbringing. If you have not heard the speech yet, I really encourage you to do so at:

There have been many failures of kindness in my life where I had the chance to speak up and do something but I made the conscious choice to ignore it. I chose to not feel strongly about it at the time but looking back, I end up regretting not doing anything. In high school, there was one particular failure of kindness that to this day, I wish I made more of an impact in this one person’s life.

The year was 2004 and I was a freshman in high school who was still closeted about my sexuality. I never felt the pressure or need to come out but I also didn’t have any inclinations to hide who I was either. It was just never a big deal to me. However a new junior/senior student had enrolled in my high school and after seeing him in the hallway from time to time, I just had a gut instinct that he was gay. And I was right. He was open about it and knew who he was. However from my perspective, he looked troubled to me. It always looked like there was a lot going on in his life and he was so quiet. Maybe it was because I was a freshman but I never really got to talk to him even though innately, I wanted to be friends with him and share that common bond between us. He didn’t seem to be very social with his classmates and I wonder to myself if people were ignoring him because of his sexuality, since at the time, being gay was very taboo.

The student didn’t reach out to others and it appeared he lived a life where he went to school and went straight home and be out of that environment as quickly as he could. I think the reason that this has affected me so much was here he was, a role model that has been open about his sexuality and me, who was still hiding in the shadows, not being able to open up to him and understand the difficult position he is in. I didn’t take a chance on him and say “I respect you for who you are and I admire your courage.” If I had the amount of confidence I had now, I feel like our connection and life could have been really different.

The reason I think about these failures of kindness is due to the recent string of violent acts that have been happening on school campuses around the country. It breaks my heart to see innocent men and women fall victim to the actions of a single individual who would be able to commit such atrocities. From a outsider’s perspective, I am always intrigued by the processes that goes on in the perpetrator’s mind and the exact moment that made them click, to finally decide that their course of action was the right one. What is the thrill behind these action and is the emotional suffering of a mass group of people worth it in their eyes?

All of these crimes and acts of violence always get me thinking about the “what ifs” in life and the things that we as a human race could have done to prevent such an act from occurring. It connects back to failures of kindness that we as humans encounter every single day. What if someone had reached out to the young man in the Isla Vista shooting and did an act of kindness that he never expected? Would things could have gone differently or was he doomed from the start?

The main point is that we will have moments in our lives where we can truly be kind and we need to make a conscious decision to act upon it. Our decision can shape that person’s day and perhaps their life and affect the future for the better. Don’t be like me and ponder about the regret about what could have been a meaningful moment.