By Jeff Rutherford
We may be waiting a loooong time for political sanity and public civility to return to America, so I’m tossing out eight ideas to keep us busy helping our countrymen and our great nation while we wait. They are meant to draw our attention away from distant Washington DC, and back to our own homes and our own communities.
1. Learn. You are 1 out of about 109 billion homo sapiens that have ever lived on Earth. What are the chances that you know something better than all of them? If you think the chances are pretty high because most of them are dead, did you know that about 7% of all people who have ever lived are alive today? Don’t just sit down in the middle of the road of life. Read. Watch. Listen. Connect the dots. Put things in context. Then, privately or publicly, write about what you learn – it cements it more firmly in your mind.
2. Act rightly. I’ve learned to think of other people as a mirror. Whatever you shine on them, they usually reflect back atcha. It’s most easily noticed one-on-one, when you do a solid favor for somebody and they repay you in kind. But a broader perspective emerges when you’ve navigated life through many decades of good and bad consequences: Life is like a wood stove in a cold winter – the more you work at gathering and stoking it with solid wood, the more it pays you back with lasting warmth. And here’s the biggest perspective of all: The highest personal integrity is attained by always doing the right thing even when no person is watching, because there is always One who is watching.
3. Be humble. (Hat-tip to John Rosemond for this hypothetical illustration.) Imagine the house next door is for sale. The owners are your close friends. They’ve gotten two identical offers from equally qualified buyers. They’ve met both buyers. Since the winning bidder will be your next neighbor, your friends are letting YOU pick. All they’ll tell you is this: “Each buyer has a very prominent personality trait. One displays very high self-esteem. The other displays great humility.” Which would you choose – the person who holds himself in the highest regard, or the person who is modest and humble? I think most of us would pick a neighbor who is humble. So then, given a choice, which trait should you strive to show others?
4. Help others nearby. My libertarian “live and let live” and “pull your own weight, I’ll pull mine” philosophies used to lead me into callous, indifferent behavior towards others, until my wife helped me realize that ignoring the small misfortunes of others is not “acting rightly”. It’s not putting fuel into the wood stove of life (see above). Sooner or later everyone, even me, even you, needs a small favor – or more. Perhaps through a million small acts of kindness each year, America can break its growing addiction to the impersonal Big Government nanny. The saying “There, but for the grace of God, go I” is attributed to English preacher John Bradford (1510-1555). It is a recognition of the virtues of humility and charity. Please click here to listen how beautifully it’s expressed in the little-known 1990 rock opera Freudiana by Eric Woolfson (1945-2009), with these lyrics sung by John Miles:
No one is an island; No one born alone.
No man can turn the tide of fortune on his own,
Though some may dare to try.
Say there but for the grace of God go you my friend.
Say there but for the grace of God go I….
(graphic credit) 5. Be tolerant. Do I agree with everyone? No. And I try not to expect everyone to agree with me. Freedom of expression (speech, beliefs, ideas, association) is a two-way street. Are you willing to abandon your deeply held beliefs in an instant? No. So why should others do that for you? Try to persuade by asking questions, both to learn the other person’s point of view and to coax them to think in a different way before they answer. When you agree with them at least a little, say so and build on it. But if the other person isn’t budging, withdraw in peace and suppress the instinct to “get the last word”. I’m not perfect but I try to realize when it doesn’t really matter to me what others think. Allowing others freedom to hold and speak their views without ostracizing them is a dying practice in the American public arena. But in your personal life, you still have some control over freedom of expression, because you control yourself and you control who you associate with. The trick is learning to associate effectively with people you disagree with, without feeling the need to make them shut up. Persuasion is a long road walked by patient travelers.
6. Make a plan. Some goals, especially the big ambitious ones, can only be achieved by putting a series of steps in motion, at the correct times and places, building upon each other towards an outcome far greater than the sum of the parts. Failure to achieve goals like that is often because a plan was weak or wasn’t laid out at all. As widely imagined, huge powerful weather outcomes can theoretically be caused by a tiny butterfly merely flapping its wings in just the right way at just the right earlier time. So if you want to start something big, my advice is: Be the Butterfly.
7. Be grateful. There are 364 other days in a year besides Thanksgiving. They aren’t called Entitlement Days, so don’t act like they are. Gratitude is the simple secret to happiness (hat-tip to Dennis Prager). Try these 3 steps: First teach your mind to expect to work your fingers to the bone for everything that comes your way. And teach your mind to expect no good fortune, no kind favors from others, no admiration or accolades, no fame, no applause. That way you’ve prepared yourself to be pleasantly surprised when you do collect even small rewards and successes. Next, acknowledge your gratitude by expressing it to others around you. “Thank you, I really appreciate it, and I won’t forget it.” Finally, to protect the happiness you’ve cultivated with gratitude, you must also abolish the worst gratitude-killers from your mind: envy and jealousy. Whatever and however long it takes, train yourself not to indulge in resentment of others’ success. Your business is you.
8. Mentor someone. So now that you have yourself and your loved ones squared away, do you have some leftover energy and passion? Then pay it forward. Here’s a good way:
Look around. Do you notice others struggling to overcome something you’ve mastered? At work? A student attending a nearby primary, secondary, or higher-ed school? Someone at your church or working in a nearby business? Take an interest and help them gently with your knowledge. Every person you encounter in a service job (restaurants, retail stores, delivery, cleaning…) may aspire to do something creative, inventive, impactful, lasting. Many are twitching with pent-up vigor and may merely lack knowledge to climb the next few rungs on their ladder.
First show interest and ask questions to understand their intentions. If they excel at, and honestly enjoy serving others where they’re at, then show appreciation for their work ethic. But if they yearn for a change, encourage them (using realism, not platitudes) and offer advice on how they can help themselves: By making plans, finding resources, investing some gut-deep effort. Later if you have contacts in your life that could become the other end of a win-win result for your mentee, make the introductions. Individual ability and courageous aspirations are enormous untapped resources in our communities. Spark a fire in someone’s belly.
What’s the point? Local self-government fosters freedom. Everyday Americans aren’t nearly as dependent on Big Government Masterminds as the politicians and their media servants would like us to believe. If enough Americans put ideas like these into action, the benefits would easily outweigh everything the gridlocked politicians are (or aren’t) doing with their self-absorbed food fights. We can improve America far more than they can.
Think of it as moving yourself out from under the heavy footprint of Federal Government control, and towards greater individual self-determination and small-town security.
What ideas would you add to mine?