Talks & Speeches

Jeff Bezos on the Difference Between Cleverness and Kindness at Princeton, 2010

Jeff Bezos, the founder of, stepped on the podium at Princeton in 2010, twenty-four years after his own graduation with a degree in computer science in 1986, to address the graduating class about —

The difference between cleverness and kindness:

What I want to talk to you about today is the difference between gifts and choices.

Cleverness is a gift; kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy — they’re given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.

Tomorrow, in a very real sense, your life — the life you author from scratch on your own — begins.

How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?

Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?

Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?

Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?

Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?

Will you bluff it out when you’re wrong, or will you apologize?

Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?

Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?

When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?

Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?

Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?

Jeff compels us to seriously reconsider carving out our own fate by re-writing a great story for ourselves:

I will hazard a prediction. When you are 80 years old and in a quiet moment, a reflection narrating for only yourself — the most personal version of your life story — the telling that will be the most compact and meaningful —will be the series of choices that you’ve made. In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story.

A clip of Jeff Bezos delivering graduation speech at Princeton University in 2010.

Talks & Speeches

Ray Bradbury’s Keynote Address from TELLING THE TRUTH, 2001 on ‘Enjoying Our Work’

A glimpse of “Do what you love, love what you do” mental construct.

In 2001, sci-fi author Ray Bradbury walks to the podium and regales his readers with anecdotes from his life, further giving valuable writing advice in TELLING THE TRUTH, his remarkable keynote address at the Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea. His keynote brims invaluable wisdom particular reflecting on ‘why you should write’.

What catches my attention, though it’s not technically a commencement speech, are a few words of clarity from within this one-hour long session, which has a universal edge, and hence, goes beyond the vocation of writing onto all sorts of things we call work. In inference, his advice on writing manages to bring insight on ‘doing what we love to do’ and ‘how we should perceive and treat our work’. I have hand-picked those particular lines from there that seem to hold an understanding of universal significance:

On writing what you love:

I want your loves to be multiple. I don’t want you to be a snob about anything. Anything you love, you do it. It’s got to be with a great sense of fun. Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun with it. Ignore the authors who say “Oh, my God, what word? Oh, Jesus Christ…”, you know. Now, to hell with that. It’s not work. If it’s work, stop and do something else.

Now, what I’m thinking of is, people always saying “Well, what do we do about a sudden blockage in your writing? What if you have a blockage and you don’t know what to do about it?” Well, it’s obvious you’re doing the wrong thing, don’t you? In the middle of writing something you go blank and your mind says: “No, that’s it.” Ok. You’re being warned, aren’t you? Your subconscious is saying “I don’t like you anymore. You’re writing about things I don’t give a damn for.” You’re being political, or you’re being socially aware. You’re writing things that will benefit the world. To hell with that! I don’t write things to benefit the world. If it happens that they do, swell. I didn’t set out to do that. I set out to have a hell of a lot of fun.

On enjoying one’s work:

I’ve never worked a day in my life. I’ve never worked a day in my life. The joy of writing has propelled me from day to day and year to year. I want you to envy me, my joy. Get out of here tonight and say: “Am I being joyful?” And if you’ve got a writer’s block, you can cure it this evening by stopping whatever you’re writing and doing something else. You picked the wrong subject.


Ray Bradbury’s keynote address at the Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University, 2001.

Talks & Speeches

‘This Is Water’ by David Foster Wallace: An Antidote to Self-Centredness

In 2005, David Foster Wallace stepped onto the podium at Keyon College and delivered one of the most timeless speeches of all time—on his views of life, our default and hard-wired compulsiveness nature, misguided perspective towards life, and how to live a compassionate life. On September 12, 2008, just three years later, after David Foster Wallace took his own life, his speech was adapted into a short book titled: “This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life” {public library}.

Wallace’s Timeless Monologue on Life— on our default hard-wired compulsive nature (mental setting) and about compassionate living:

Please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being ‘well-adjusted’, which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.

On our compulsive nature and how our intellect has turned against us:

It is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about ‘the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.’

This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

And I submit that this is what the real, no-bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out.

On empathy and kindness, the two natural consequences that stem out of one’s innate compassion towards others:

Please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to.

But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends on what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

On our misguided sense of freedom:

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

On the real value of education:

The real value of a real education [has] almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

‘This is water.’

‘This is water.’

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime.


Credit: CD Mosley (Youtube Channel)/Charletta Mosley — @charlec73

Above, is an adapted cinematic version of Wallace’s famous monologue ‘This is Water’ published by a Youtube Channel ‘CD Mosley’ Charlette mosley (@charlec73)

However tragic his death may seem, and even though the terrible master defeated him eventually, he’d truly arrived at a certain level clarity about the default nature of our compulsive thought processes and our convoluted perspectives towards life, keeping his speech truly timeless and relevant to all, most of us.


‘Pale Blue Dot’: Carl Sagan’s Famous Monologue on our Existential Reality

“The earth is a very small stage in the vast cosmic arena.”

On February 14, 1990, the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which was 4 billion miles away from planet earth, turned its camera around before exiting our solar system and took the iconic ‘Pale Blue Dot’, much after Carl Sagan’s relentless request, which later inspired his monologue of the same title.

Pale Blue Dot taken by Voyeur 1 from 6 billion kilometers away
Seen from about 6 billion kilometres, Earth appears as a tiny bluish dot amidst deep space bathing under an orange stripe of light. Image: NASA / JPL

Carl Sagan’s historic monologue, inspired by the photograph which we now famously know as the ‘Pale Blue Dot’, sheds impeccable light on our existential reality:

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

However, the actual credit for this timeless photograph goes to Candice Hansen-Koharcheck, who helped develop the command sequence that controlled the timing for each photograph’s exposure.

Below is a blown-out version of the same image, which will give you a slightly immersive gaze at our bluish planet.

Zoomed Pale Blue Dot TrulyLit
This zoomed-in image of the Earth was taken via three colors and recombined to create the color image. Image: NASA / JPL

Admitting ‘I Don’t Know’, the Only Way to Know: An Antidote to Ignorance

We live in a culture where we’re constantly told to have opinions about things in life to avoid coming off as fools or less smart than others. Discomforted by this very thought of being mocked and ridiculed by others, we often form our opinions based on superficial and surface-level impressions and borrowed ideas of others without investing much time and thought into it, before making up our own conclusions. And, these conclusions blind us from knowing anything, truly. We then go about asserting our opinions and ideas, which we have borrowed from others in the first place, onto others.

All this, simply, because we do not want to admit that — “I don’t know” — we have already killed the possibility of knowing.

“Without admitting ‘I don’t know’, the possibility of knowing never arises. Admitting ‘I Don’t Know’ is the Only Way to Know.”

If you look at something and don’t admit that you don’t know it, you cease to become curious about it. When you cease to become curious about literally anything, the longing to know possibilities goes away. When your longing goes away, you make up conclusions to fill the gaps without any assessment whatsoever. This is how you never come to realize anything properly.

Knowing anything properly requires us to invest adequate time and thought into things to bring true conviction.

TrulyLit - Art - Painting - Starry Nights by Van Gogh
Starry Nights by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh pours out a similar insight when he remarks:

I don’t know anything with certainty, but seeing the stars makes me dream.

As disoriented as it may seem, admitting that “I don’t know” is more rewarding even if it means you changing your perception towards life and yourself.

Bertrand Russell crisply attempts to explain the above:

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wise people so full of doubts.”

In The Passions of the Soul, René Descartes pours out expressing:

 “Wonderment is the first passion of all… Those without any natural inclination to this passion are ordinarily very ignorant.”