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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 11-10-23 – If This Isn't Nice, What Is?

My Uncle Alex, who is up in Heaven now, one of the things he found objectionable about human beings was that they so rarely noticed it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, "If this isn't nice, what is? So I hope that you will do the same for the rest of your lives. When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud, "If this isn't nice, what is?” ― Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

The title of this post is lifted from a book of the same name of nine commencement speeches that Kurt Vonnegut gave at graduation ceremonies spanning the years of 1969 to 2001. I ran across the gem of a quote above, found the book and recently read it. The full title is If This Isn't Nice, What Is? Advice to the Young. I am no stranger to the work of Kurt Vonnegut; I devoured his writings in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a teen. I found in his work simple truths stated in ways that resonated with me as a young person. They still ring true today. Some quotes from the book of commencement speeches delivered to young graduates over the course of three decades that resonated with me:

Your government does not exist and should not exist in order to keep you or anybody else, no matter what color, no matter what race, no matter what religion, from getting your damn fool feelings hurt.”

We are so lonely because we don’t have enough friends and relatives. Human beings are supposed to live in stable, like-minded, extended families of fifty people or more.”

A show of hands, please: How many of you have had a teacher at any stage of your education, from the first grade until this day in May, who made you happier to be alive, prouder to be alive, than you had previously believed possible? Good! Now say the name of that teacher to someone sitting or standing near you. All done? Thank you, and drive home safely, and God bless you all.”

“I apologize now. I apologize because of the terrible mess the planet is in. But it has always been a mess. There have never been any “Good Old Days,” there have just been days. And as I say to my grandchildren, “Don’t look at me. I just got here myself.” So you know what I’m going to do? I declare everybody here a member of Generation A. Tomorrow is another day for all of us.”

“I hope you know that television and computers are no more your friends, and no more increasers of your brainpower, than slot machines. All they want is for you to sit still and buy all kinds of junk, and play the stock market as though it were a game of blackjack.”

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”

“It is a tragedy, perhaps, that human beings can get so much energy and enthusiasm from hate. If you want to feel ten feet tall and as though you could run a hundred miles without stopping, hate beats pure cocaine any day. Hitler resurrected a beaten, bankrupt, half-starved nation with hatred and nothing more. Imagine that.”

Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories.”

Although some graduating classes will have a “handful of celebrities” who move on to the national stage, he pointed out that most would find themselves “building or strengthening your communities. Please love that destiny, if it turns out to be yours—for communities are all that’s substantial about the world.”

So it is not too much to ask of Americans that they not be censors, that they run the risk of being deeply wounded by ideas so that we may all be free. If we are wounded by an ugly idea, we must count it as part of the cost of freedom and, like American heroes in the days gone by, bravely carry on.”

Being merciful, it seems to me, is the only good idea we have had so far. Perhaps we will get another good idea by and by—and then we will have two good ideas.”

Over 50 years he published 14 novels, 3 short-story collections, 5 plays, and 5 nonfiction works. After his death he was hailed as one of the most important contemporary writers on American society. I really wished I would have had the opportunity to hear him speak, but it was never in the cards for me, yet I am grateful that I was one of the hundreds of thousands of kids exposed to his work at an early age. He is one of the reasons I became an avid reader. Grateful for Kurt Vonnegut and his contributions to young people of all ages.

What are you grateful for today?

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