It’s harder to be kind than clever

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Bezos’s grandparents taught him a lesson in compassion that he related decades later, in a 2010 commencement speech at Princeton. Every few years Pop and Mattie Gise hooked an Airstream trailer to their car and caravanned around the country with other Airstream owners, and they sometimes took Jeff with them. On one of these road trips, when Bezos was ten and passing time in the back seat of the car, he took some mortality statistics he had heard on an antismoking public service announcement and calculated that his grandmother’s smoking habit would take nine years off her life. When he poked his head into the front seat to matter-of-factly inform her of this, she burst into tears, and Pop Gise pulled over and stopped the car. In fact, Mattie Gise fought cancer for years and would eventually succumb to it. Bezos described what happened next in his speech at Princeton. He got out of the car and came around and opened my door and waited for me to follow. Was I in trouble? My grandfather was a highly intelligent, quiet man. He had never said a harsh word to me, and maybe this was to be the first time? Or maybe he would ask that I get back in the car and apologize to my grandmother. I had no experience in this realm with my grandparents and no way to gauge what the consequences might be. We stopped beside the trailer. 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.”

– ‘The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon’ by Brad Stone

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