Saturday, February 5, 2022
In 2013, acclaimed short-story writer George Saunders gave a commencement speech on kindness at Syracuse University. The speech went viral, the transcript landed on The New York Times blog, and the talk later became the basis of a book.
The entire speech is well worth listening to, but the gist is Saunders saying: “What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”
Oxford English Dictionary defines “kindness” as “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.”
When I think of the profession of law, “kindness,” “friendly,” “generous,” and “considerate” are sadly not among the first words that come to mind. “Analytical,” “bold,” “competitive,” “critical,” and “justice” were the first five words I would use to describe our field.
As C.S. Lewis reportedly said, “love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness,” but I am not sure love is ever less than kindness. There may be ways, as negotiation theory teaches us, to “be soft on the person, but hard on the problem.” We can tackle injustice with vigor, but be mindful of the people across the tables from us.
Pre-pandemic, I put a real premium on “tough love” and preparing students for the rigors of practice. While I still think there is a place for the critical and exacting skills that law training tends to emphasize, I also think we would all do well to increase our focus on kindness.