Thursday, June 26, 2014

Legacy and Six Good Men

I’m big on seminars. I listen to the tapes of people like Zig Ziglar and I get inspired. I really do like to be inspired. It makes me want to become the better me. It doesn’t last long enough, though, so I listen to more seminars.
Years ago, I heard a guy ask a question on one of the tapes I was listening to that struck me to my heart. He asked “If you died today, would you know enough good men to carry your casket?”
I had to think about it. My three brothers. Not quite enough. One friend here in Texas, perhaps two. Five people wouldn’t be able to do carry my casket. My sons were too young.
I decided I should be cremated. Then I’d only need one person to carry my ash around.
Seriously, though, it struck me sadly. The seminar was about legacy, what kind of legacy you leave your children, a legacy you leave behind in the world. A legacy isn’t money; it is a set of beliefs, a set of ground rules to live by that they can remember and that will serve them when times are good or bad.
 (Good times ruin a lot of people. Think about that.)
So in the back of my work notebook I tried to come up with something concise and insightful as a legacy for my children. I don’t think I ever shared it with them, though, so that part kind of went by the wayside. Like I said, the better me doesn’t really last long enough. I have always liked the West Point cadet honor code, something I think our Dad raised us all to follow: "A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do."  Yet this code is a minimum fundamental set of rules. I need to leave a legacy broader than that. What I came up with was “Be Brave. Be Bold. Believe.” But after many more years of life I realize I’d add to it. So here is my Legacy List.
Be Kind
Kindness is underrated these days. I hear someone on television disagree with what someone else and they call them all sorts of names. It's an election year, so it's even worse.
I had a conversation with a fellow engineer back in my younger days. He was a few years older than I was, had a crippled arm due to some injury in the military, was an ex-Navy Seal and we were talking about people.
“Take a prostitute,” he says. “We just see a prostitute. But what was she before that?”
“I don’t know,” I answered. “Just a woman.”
He nods. “So maybe she was just a woman. What was she before that?”
“A little girl, I guess.”
“Right. She was a little girl, with a mother and father, and they probably both loved her. She was just like our friend’s little girl, or the neighbor girl. Laughing, loving life, skipping rope.” He was quiet for a second. “When it comes right down to it, we’re all just little kids. We all deserve to be loved for what we might have been.”
True or not, I don’t know. He made me think about people differently. He died a few years later, and the police discovered he was a meth chemist and supplier for the local area. Still, at one point he was a little boy, and he deserves some love just for that.
One thing I did try to teach my children about kindness, and I think they will always remember: If the person you're with isn't nice to the waiter, he just isn't a nice person.
Be honest
Honesty is a hard trait to live up to. There’s the standard joke about honesty. “Honey, do these pants make me look fat?” “It’s not the pants.” That breaks the first rule.
People might stop speaking to you, but put kindness before honesty and the absence of the people who don’t speak to you becomes a blessing. (Read that one a few times.)
Honesty doesn't give you a license to insult someone or be mean in the "spirit" of honesty. An old woman I knew would often say something hurtful to someone and then say she was just "being honest." Honesty without kindness is rude. Don't be rude.
Here’s the really hard part. Be honest with yourself first. As Shakespeare said in Hamlet "To thine ownself be true." Or as stated in Romans 12: “Do not think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but think so as to have sound judgment.”
Aside from being truthful to others and yourself, honesty is doing right even when nobody else is looking. Honesty is being someone others can trust.
One more thing – don’t think less of yourself than you should. That isn’t honest either.
Be Brave
This might actually be bold...
Life is hard. It is hard to make the right choice every time. Sometimes we fail. But you have to be brave about life. You can’t hide from it. You can’t avoid it.
James Altucher has a basic rule for living life: learn to deal with people. He says there are only four kinds of people: Happy, Hurting, Good and Crappy.
Hang around with happy people as much as you can and understand how they do it. Bad things happen to them, but (without being Pollyanna) they expect the best from themselves and look for the good in people. Funny thing is that they usually find it. They choose to be happy in spite of what life throws at them.
Hurting people are unhappy people. Help them if you can, but if you can’t help, then get out of the way and let someone else help. Introduce them to others who can help them. Be a force for peace and goodness. Be careful, though, since hurting people can become crappy people in your life.
Good people are more rare than perfect gems. Truly altruistic people should be admired and emulated. In my personal experience, they also tend to be happy people, but that isn't always true.
Now the final group: Crappy People. Avoid them. Not all people start as Crappy People. And they aren’t necessarily crappy to everyone. The might just be crappy for you, at this time in your life. You must set boundaries in your life and when people make a habit of crossing those boundaries, they have to go. Remove them from your life. Quit having lunch with them. Don’t think about them. Don’t write to them. Don’t try to point out where they are wrong and you are right. Just part ways, move on, don’t speak ill of them and purge them from your life.
That’s a hard thing to do. It’s a brave thing to do.
For me it was breaking up with my first girlfriend in college. We’d stuck it out for years, and I even changed schools to be in the same university. Ultimately, though, I knew we were not right for each other and I broke up with her.
That was hard, one of the hardest things I ever did, and it was brave. Sadly, I didn’t do good and right things in my life after that, but those are different stories.
Do the brave thing.
Be Bold
Boldness isn’t the same as bravery. Bravery is facing what life hands you and dealing with it in a way that conforms to your code of honor and doesn’t violate your boundaries or the boundaries of others. Boldness is seeing something that would make your life better, make you better, help you and those around you, and making the plan to make that something happen.
Boldness is hard. And it takes one more step after the planning! You have to execute the plan. Do it!
I was bold to go to college. That wasn't an easy choice for me, and I had no family member to pave the way for me.
Of course, bold doesn't mean STUPID
Sadly, there have been many chances in my life for me to be bold and I wasn't. And sometimes I'm not. My life is less rich for my fear.
I tell my children that they have to Believe. Believe in themselves, of course, but also believe in God. I don’t know how people without God can make it through the hard times in life. Even with God I have a tough time on a regular basis.
I know many intelligent, caring, kind and good people who think I am foolish for believing in God. Some wonder why.
That answer is simple. When I needed God most, He was there for me. He saved me from myself, from my life, from my misery. I owe Him everything for that alone. The relationship is extremely personal, not religious.
So I say to God the same thing Jacopo said to Edmond Dantes “I swear on my dead relatives - and even on the ones who are not feeling too good - I am your man forever!"
So believe. If you cannot believe in God (and that makes me sad) then at least believe there is something (Someone) bigger than you are, bigger than anything that exists. It really isn't about you.
Control is an illusion
As a corollary to the one above, you must understand that control of life is an illusion. When you think your hand is closed tightly enough to control the reins of life, the reins will slip, you will fall, and life will trample you. So be flexible and learn to love in spite of life's hardships.
So now I can leave the legacy for my children. For others, take from this what you want, what helps you in your life. I am content.
Oh, and there are enough good men in my life to carry my casket now.

1 comment:

  1. The original date of this one was 3/11/2012.
    I needed to see it again.