Author and philosopher king Kurt Vonnegut was a master of empathy. He understood, appreciated and valued the human condition.
He knew the sadness fate can deal. As a young man, his mother committed suicide on Mother’s Day 1944. As a soldier, he was a prisoner of war who survived the firebombing that destroyed Dresden (read “Slaughterhouse-Five”). His sister Alice died of cancer within hours of her husband’s death in a train crash.
That’s a lot of tragedy for a young man to bear, but Vonnegut did and became a student of humanity adopting a Zen-like acceptance of all that life deals.
“So it goes,” he wrote. And so it went.
Like all great artists, he explored what it means to live and how we get through our days. He said, “A plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit.” And so he did.
One of his ongoing themes was the challenge of battling loneliness. He counseled, “Many people need desperately to receive this message: I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”
He also asked, “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.”
Vonnegut knew people craved connection. He preached the need for extended families. He felt a nuclear family alone couldn’t provide enough love for what humans demand.
“There is love enough in this world for everybody, if people will just look,” he said.
He had said all these wise things before there was such a thing as social media that made it easy for people to connect. Now we live with social media monkeys on our backs, but that is hardly the true connection we need.
It’s human nature to want to connect and share. Keep that in mind when creating your marketing materials. Are you providing something of value, or simply serving yourself?
Vonnegut believed we needed to share our experiences. He also said, “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion . . . I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.”
In closing, here are a few more Vonnegut quotes to live by: “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
“I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”
“Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter could be said to remedy anything.”
“There’s only one me, and I’m stuck with him.”
“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
“If you want to really hurt you parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. 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. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.
“Science is magic that works.”
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.”
“Until you die… it’s all life.”
And now, a few words from the master of empathy on stories. Enjoy.