“….we are the sum total of the choices we have made.”

Jeff Bezos recalls, to the 2010 Princeton graduating class, of the time when he was around 10 years young and spending summers with his grandparents. He says “I’d take any excuse to make estimates and do minor arithmetic. I’d calculate our gas mileage — figure out useless statistics on things like grocery spending.”

One of the things he really enjoyed was the road-trips grandparents took him on. On one such trip, he narrates, ” I was rolling around in the big bench seat in the back of the car. My grandfather was driving. And my grandmother had the passenger seat. She smoked throughout these trips, and I hated the smell.”

Jeff goes on. “I decided to do the math for my grandmother. I estimated the number of cigarettes per days, estimated the number of puffs per cigarette and so on. When I was satisfied that I’d come up with a reasonable number, I poked my head into the front of the car, tapped my grandmother on the shoulder, and proudly proclaimed, “At two minutes per puff, you’ve taken nine years off your life!””

“I have a vivid memory of what happened, and it was not what I expected. I expected to be applauded for my cleverness and arithmetic skills….That’s not what happened. Instead, my grandmother burst into tears.”

Jeff’s grandfather pulled the car over, got out of the car, “opened my door and waited for me to follow.”

“Was I in trouble?”

Jeff then tells the audience, “My grandfather looked at me, and after a bit of silence, he gently and calmly said, “Jeff, one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.””

Jeff then has a profound message for the young audience at one of the world’s leading universities, a place that is associated with Albert Einstein and has produced 70+ Nobel Laureates — “Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice.”

In “You Learn by Living”, the former First Lady of the USA, and human rights activist, Eleanor Roosevelt writes: “We all create the person we become by our choices as we go through life. In a real sense, by the time we are adults, we are the sum total of the choices we have made.”

Peace 😊

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