Do we have a moral obligation to live well, and to present our best selves? Yep, I think we do.
I think we have a duty to choose grown-up words, to communicate responsibly, and to think about the optics of our actions. I think telling somebody how wrong they are is pointless, and criticism should be given kindly with the end goal of helping. I think what we do and say matters. And I believe that going through life without these things is, at best, a zero sum game – not making things better, not making things worse. Is that really what we want our legacy to be?
I’ve always felt that any thinking, capable person, in which category I generously include myself, has something to do with setting an example in whatever they do, since you never know who might be imitating your actions, good or bad.
My life has been shaped in many ways by people I have never met and whose names I will never know. Watching someone take the time to help a stranger. Seeing people being spoken to with kindness, when being otherwise would have been much easier. Elegant, put-together women I’ve observed in common places.
I’m sometimes struck by the overwhelming ability to influence each one of us has, if we just rise to the occasion. It used to be that only the recognized and scholarly possessed a broad platform to air their well-thought-out opinions. Now, anyone with a username and password has the power to influence, good or bad. We comment, post, and tweet, and forward memes which ridicule whole swaths of population, too often followed by the puerile disclaimer “I don’t care what anyone thinks about me.” Sorry, it’s irresponsible.
I’ve never had the luxury of feeling like I didn’t need to set an example. I’m not sure where that came from – certainly it wasn’t out of any sense of nobles oblige. My family would have had to stretch to aspire to “lower middle class.” Maybe that made me work a little harder, to prove that I wasn’t a product of my upbringing.
The real juice in life is living intentionally, choosing and pursuing goals, and inspiring others to do the same. How many people go through a day, a week, or even a lifetime with no goal, no objective, no dragon to slay or obstacle to overcome? Where’s the fun in that?
Small things matter. Things like being industrious. Praising someone for doing something right. Holding the door for someone. Not ignoring, the “ordinary” person you pass on the street. Making an effort to show up put-together in public, out of respect for yourself and those around you, and practicing good manners.
My husband and I have a policy, sort of a family creed, that we try to follow in any tough situation, and it is simply “just do what’s right.” Deep down, we always know what the right thing is, right? It may not be the easiest thing, it may not be what we want to do, and sometimes it’s a real bitch. But it cuts through any indecision, and best of all, there’s no regrets.
This, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, sums it up pretty well –
What is Success?
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.
What was the last thing that inspired you? Maybe it was a Facebook video of someone giving help to a stranger, or doing something kind for an animal or a child. Maybe it was a character in a movie who overcame unbeatable odds to succeed at something, or a teacher inspiring his students. Or maybe it was just someone putting some real effort into their job or life.
Do you realize how much influence you have over people? As much as anybody.
Now go forth and do something good!