Writer Kurt Vonnegut was an American literary icon who was beloved as much for his attitudes about life as for his unique style of writing.
Born in 1922, he was marked in his early life by his experiences in WWII and dedicated much of his career to exposing the tragedies of war, particularly in works like his masterpiece Slaughterhouse Five and his last book A Man Without a Country. Vonnegut’s words and life serve as models for kindness, creativity and humor.
Here are 7 life lessons you can learn from him:
1. Don’t be lazy
In the beginning of his writing career, Vonnegut took in 3 of his sister’s children after both she and her husband died. He now had six children to care for. While working full-time as an advertising executive, Vonnegut also managed to write and publish five novels over the following decade. Though overburdened and overworked, he still managed to dedicate himself to his life’s passion: writing.
Always carve out time for the things that are important to you. Whether it’s waking up at 4am to write every morning before going to work or taking time during lunch breaks to work on a personal project, find the time in the corners of your life for the things you feel passionate about. That’s the only way they’ll find their way to center stage someday.
2. Be kind
Vonnegut’s experiences as a soldier in WWII left a deep impression on him. In order to make sense of such tragedy, Vonnegut concluded that kindness is the only thing that can redeem humanity. In his novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, he wrote, “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies – God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
Fire can’t put out fire and hatred can’t dispel hatred. The only way to win a battle against injustice and hatred is love and kindness.
When you’re faced with a situation that invites you to respond with anger, remember that this will only perpetuate the problem. Compassion and love are gifts you can offer not only to the other person, but to yourself in those moments.
3. Don’t forget to laugh
Vonnegut was a champion of humor and not taking life too seriously. Taking life too seriously never got anyone anywhere. But laughing and sharing laughter can give you exactly the right distance you need from your troubles.
The next time you find yourself feeling overburdened, make a conscious effort to lighten up. Watch a comedy, call a friend who makes you laugh, play with your children or your pet, or just go out for a night of dancing. Whatever makes you smile.
4. Don’t be afraid to be different
One of the things that made his writing outstanding was the non-traditional way he wrote. Long sentences, exuberant use of exclamation points and italics, the mixing of genres made his books extraordinary and a style all his own. He wouldn’t have become the icon he became if he’d done what everyone else did.
Maybe you’re afraid what people will think if you dress a certain way, play a certain kind of music or express an unpopular political opinion. Have the courage to say, wear, think and be who you are. Many of the most celebrated writers, painters, scientists and thinkers were those who ran against popular opinion. Don’t let fear squelch your brilliance – let it shine.
5. Take care of the environment
Vonnegut was also a champion of environmental causes: “I really wonder what gives us the right to wreck this poor planet of ours.” The planet has its limits, so getting behind those who are trying to live in harmony with those limits is a worthwhile cause.
Seek out information either from local environmental enthusiasts or the Web. Look at your lifestyle and see how you can contribute to making sure your passage through this planet is less harmful. These changes don’t have to be huge. There are a myriad of small things you can do to minimize your impact. By becoming conscious you also help spread consciousness to others.
6. Don’t get caught up in dogma
Vonnegut was a critic of organized religion. To him, the purpose of human life was a continuous mystery and not necessarily one that should or could be solved.
Whether you follow a religion or not, it’s important to keep an open mind about the possibilities of our existence. This allows for acceptance of others, and fosters healthy curiosity and peaceful coexistence.
Instead of preaching to others about your religion, try something different. Try to find out more about other people’s faith. The more knowledge and information you have about other types of religions, the more tolerant you will be. If more people practiced this, there might be less conflict in the world.
7. Express yourself
In his last novel A Man Without a Country, he urged people to find a means of creative expression: “…go into the arts…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.”
Creative expression is a gift and one that’s uniquely human. The arts are a means of self-understanding.