Max Linsky is the co-host of the Longform podcast. He was recently interviewed on Gimlet Media about his interview technique.

Early in the program, Linsky is asked about his interview with US writer of short stories, essays, novellas and children’s books, George Saunders. (Keep in mind that these words are taken from a recording of a spoken interview.) Linsky says,

The first half of the interview I was asking about writing, the normal things we ask about. And then something clicked in my brain and I’m like, here I am in this small room with George Saunders, and I’m never going to be in a small room with George Saunders ever again. And this is like basically the wisest person I know. So at some point in the interview I just stopped asking writing questions and started being like, “Please just teach me your ways, the George Saunders ways”

I asked him a question which was basically, “What is the meaning of life?”

George SaundersAnd he had this amazing explanation. Saunders said, “You know when you’re saying goodby to someone at the airport that you love and you get all soft. And you get, ‘Oh my God I hardly know you.’

“What if that’s the truth, if that mode times ten is the mode we should exist in all the time? Then on another day you’re just yourself. There’s big gap between those two people. 

“So, how much time do I spend in that regular old habitual stupid mindset of taking everything for granted, as opposed to this exalted state of being super-tenderized to the people you care about. And I’m guessing that, if there’s a heaven, it’s that at the airport times ten or twenty, or a thousand.”

Most of us have probably on occasion tasted that place within ourselves that is “super-tenderized.” We know the experience of softness and warmth Saunders describes.We have some sense of what it means to encounter the world with the fresh, open, spontaneous, expansiveness of a child. We have touched that gentleness that is our true nature.

But, we are also all too familiar with the fact that much of the time there is a great distance between that “super-tenderized” part of ourselves and the protected, guarded, shut-in mode that is our frequent way of encountering the world. Far too often we approach life from a position that is braced, guarded, and defensive. We come with our walls up, determined to protect what we perceive to be the vulnerable core of our being. Instead of softness, we meet the world with a hardened crust firmly in place.

Jesus taught that the law was given to the Hebrew people, not to make them better people, but “because you were so hard-hearted.” (Matthew 19:8). Hard hearts hurt other people and damage the creation in which we live. The law seeks to contain the damage hard hearts inflict.

Jesus sought to enable people become “super-tenderised,” not only to “the people we care about,” but to all people. For Jesus, the soft warm way of tenderness to which Saunders alludes is what it means to be truly human. The meaning of life, whatever our circumstances or accomplishments, is to live with a vast open heart that approaches all circumstances with tenderness and gentleness. Tender-heartedness is the path to our true nature and to finding our true place in this life.