Monday, December 26, 2005

A Golden Rule for the New Millennium

Happy Holidays everyone
This is something I’ve actually been planning to write about for over a year, and Christmas is as good a time as any. So as in the past, I’m taking a brief detour from my current series to talk about something that has become extremely poignant to me and has seriously affected the way I think about relating to other people.

It’s not too often that you hear or read something that changes your life. But about five years ago I was surfing the Web and found a sentiment; a pretty intelligent truism, I thought; a phrase that really made me think. It since has sort of become my credo and an important part of my personal philosophy on life.

It’s a new spin on a timeless reality; a Golden Rule for the New Millennium.

The so-called, Golden Rule, as described in the Bible, instructs us to, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It has been an oft-quoted fixture in the moral code of Western society since the time of the Pilgrims. It, as much as anything, embodies the so-called Judeo-Christian Ethic. However for what is largely regarded as a religious axiom, it actually speaks more to simple civility than to faith. Anyone, regardless of their faith, can and usually does wish to be treated well. Nobody enjoys the selfishness and rude behavior we so often encounter in everyday life. If everyone treated their neighbor as they themselves wish to be treated, the world would obviously be a better place, would it not?

So why don’t we do it?

Maybe we believe in the concept, but the terminology has become too old-fashioned to embrace or even understand. Perhaps we just need to look at it a bit differently. Maybe we just need to gain a fresh perspective.

I have no idea who first penned these words. And I’m really not convinced they had the Golden Rule in mind when they did so. As to where these words of wisdom originated, I haven’t a clue. I didn’t even bookmark the Web site. I don’t know who the author is or when it was written. But as soon as I found it, I printed it out and posted it in a prominent place where I now see it every day to remind and inspire me. It goes like this:

People will forget what you said
People will forget what you did
But people will never forget about how you made them feel

Now most men I know would consider this saying overly sappy or too emotional to even be considered. Me, I don’t care much about whether or not people think I’m too emotional. I am what I am, and what I am is an emotional being; we all are, whether or not we care to admit it. If you really think about it, emotion is the only thing in this physical life that is really real. It defines us, both in the way we see ourselves and others see us. Emotions are the only means by which we can truly control our own destiny. I can’t control the future, but I can control how I allow myself to deal with it.

I guess it was fairly easy to adopt the phrase as I did, since I’d pretty much believed and lived it my entire life, before I even stumbled upon that Web site. But it’s not that I’m so great or better than anyone else. It’s just that I’ve observed that people who have themselves been mistreated often display the greatest capacity for understanding the need for kindness. Sometimes it takes a little experience being the victim to thereby gain the compassion to try and spare others from experiencing the same fate.

I’ve seen both sides of the coin in my own life. On one side there was my stepmom, Maxine. While I have completely forgiven her, it has been impossible for me to forget how the way she treated me growing up made me feel — both about her and about myself. I felt worthless, angry, confused, resentful; wondering if she really was right when she repeatedly told me that I’d “never amount to anything.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum is someone like my friend Cindy, who has never done anything but make me feel good about myself, as I’ve made reference to before.

It is extremes such as these, which span the gamut of human emotion, that make that phrase of affectation so significant.

Ever find that you simply “don’t like someone” but can’t really place a finger on why? Or conversely, is there someone you know, even casually, who makes you smile every time you talk to them, or perhaps, even think of them? These emotions are not elicited by accident. But by the same token, they’re not always purposeful in origin. They are often based directly upon whether or not someone has made a conscious effort to be kind; to be civil; to place themselves in a position of servitude to another friend, family member, or even a complete stranger on the street.

We have the opportunity every single day, and in every single encounter, to either build or destroy our personal standing with another human being.

Have a problem dealing with someone? Guess what? Chances are it’s not their problem — it’s yours. We have the power to change minds, one smile, one kind word, one encouragement at a time. It’s not someone else’s responsibility to find us likable. We’re the ones who have the greater ability to make that happen.

Say you want a res-o-lu-tion?
We often use this time of Christmas and the start of the New Year as a season in which to reflect upon our lives; evaluating things, both positive and otherwise, either acknowledging thanks that they are so, or exercising our resolve to change them into something better.

I challenge everyone reading this to accept the responsibility that we all have to make a positive impact on those we come into contact with each and every day. This isn’t pie in the sky, folks. It’s not, “all you need is love, “let’s make nice-nice” or any other kind of faux-sincerity. People are genuinely effected by our demeanor, our attitude, and whether or not we actually care about their lives or their opinions. If you think you can blow someone off or dismiss them without them knowing it, think again. When was the last time the shoe was on the other foot and you didn’t realize what was going on?

And of course the phenomenon isn’t limited to casual encounters only. What do we truly invest in our friends and family? Is it always about us, or are we actually concerned about their needs? These are tough questions because this is serious work. There is no free lunch. We all need to get paid. And because of that, we all need to put forth the effort to be deserving of such a wonderful blessing as the love and respect of great friends and family.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and Hanukkah. Here’s to a great and successful 2006. Take care of each other; respect one another. Make the impression you leave on others a good one.

Here’s to a new year filled with no regrets.

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