Choosing Wisely

Somewhere in the distant reaches of my memory is the time before I had an iPhone, and as wonderful as the device is, part of me misses that time when I had to be seated in front of a computer to research, communicate or just dawdle online. Even then, it was a struggle to keep control; now it's even more of a struggle, and I have the distinct feeling I'm losing most of the time.

But sometimes there are bright spots, and The New York Times recently provided one completely by accident. Once upon a time, the app allowed unlimited free access to "Top News" (the most recently-published dozen or so pieces on the site) and "Most Popular," a mystifying combination of science, art and news pieces that have in common an ability to inspire thoughtful consideration. Just when I was starting to read very regularly, the app changed to allow only Top News for non-subscribers. Due to the large number of [somewhat discouraging] straight news pieces, I stopped reading except once in awhile while waiting in a very long line.

Last week when I updated the app, I found the policy had changed again: now access is capped at three articles per device per day, but they could be articles from any section -- the magazine or the food pages in addition to the Top News and Most Popular lists. I imagine this policy was a compromise designed to meet the somewhat mutually exclusive goals of making money and attracting readers, but I love it. The limit has forced me to choose wisely, and I've become really picky about what I'll read (also incensed when an article doesn't deliver: "New York Today," for instance, is pretty useless if you don't live in Manhattan.)

The power of choice. It takes me back to my childhood, my mom telling each of us in the grocery store we could choose one thing. Granola bars? Fruit snacks? Ah, the agony of indecision!*

Then, all of a sudden, a piece I chose on a whim might surprise me, like this unexpected jolt of spiritual truth in what is certainly the best commencement speech I have ever read: 

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. 
Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly.  Reservedly.  Mildly.
Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope:  Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?
Those who were kindest to you, I bet.
It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.
Now, the million-dollar question:  What’s our problem?  Why aren’t we kinder?

I really recommend you read George Saunders' talk all the way through. When I run across another like it, I'll let you know, but don't hold your breath. Wisdom like this is hard to find, and even harder to practice!

*Junk was still off-limits. My sister once famously chose a head of lettuce as her treat. Did I mention we were also restricted to public television? Was I deprived or what?!