“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
― Lao Tzu
If you’re like me, you’re exhausted from the election that never ended. Never mind that the ballots from last November’s election have been counted and the people’s selection has been made. Both sides continue to campaign.
Every day my inbox is filled with the dire warnings of what the other side has said (which is always taken personally and as though some insult has been made), has done (which is always the polar opposite of what ought to have been done), and probably intends to do next (which can lead to nothing good). Enough! Everyone needs to take a deep breath, step back, and take a time out.
To every single person holding office (and especially the Representatives and Senators who are supposed to be representing the people in their districts and their states):
- Stop running for election – and even worse, since the next election is twenty months away – for reelection.
- Stop being so entrenched in the rightness of your position that you refuse to see the possible sense in the some other position.
- Stop calling people who do not agree with you names.
To every single person elected to office: please! Do your job. Just in case you’ve forgotten what that is, take a look at Lao Tzu’s quote that began this blog. Of course, this is good advice for anyone.
Watch your thoughts; they become words. I wrote a dozen paragraphs about this importance of this, then threw them all away because the simplicity of this idea is everything. Thought is the foundation of everything because it is rooted in the values, desires, beliefs, and worldview that each person has. Are your thoughts filled with optimism and possibility or pessimism and fear?
The words that are written and spoken are a natural outcome of thought. Words matter—they have the power to heal life-long rifts or create new problems. And so, I ask: are your words elevating the conversation, looking for common ground, focusing on positive outcomes (personally, I love the win-win game), or creating deeper division?
Watch your words; they become actions. We all seem to be drawn to the stories of generosity and compassion. We love the story about the townspeople who rally around a group that is the victim of a hoax or a theft. We love the story of heroism when a stranger rescues a fellow human being or innocent animal from certain death. We all love the story about the sportsmanship of teams that make way for that disabled athlete to have his or her moment in the sun. Each of these acknowledges the idea that we’re somehow connected, somehow part of something bigger than ourselves. And so, I ask – what do your words and actions reveal about you? Are you acting as though you’re connected to a larger community that is a magnificent kaleidoscopic whole? Or are you acting as though you’re separate and the other colors of the kaleidoscope are wrong rather than simply different?
Watch your actions; they become habit. Habits are both helpful and insidious. Habits leave us time to think about and act upon the things we consider important. But, our habits can also be blind. Aristotle correctly noted that excellence is not an act, but a habit because it is the result of what is repeatedly done. True of excellence. Equally true of mediocrity, unintentional cruelty, and thoughtlessness. One terrible habit rampant in our society is looking for the worst in others and in situations.
Some of this looking for the worst comes out of the media, which is somewhat understandable. More people may be likely to watch the evening news with a tagline of “Killer Storms March Across the Midwest” than with “Spring Weather in the South Is Lovely.” Even good news comes with a worry that the other shoe surely will drop. Congress has finally come together to pass a bill, but when will this new-found sense of cooperation end? Conflict, then, is the stuff of good drama—I know this to be true because I write fiction. However, much of the conflict that currently dominates the news is a habit of thinking the worst about others and about what those others intend to do. And like any habit, this one can be changed for something that yields a more productive result. Imagine how different the political landscape (in particular) would look if those involved changed this one habit of seeing and expecting the worst to seeing and expecting the best. Imagine how different our lives would be if we each looked for and expected the best in others and in ourselves.
And by the way … this will never work if we all wait for the other guy to go first. And so, I ask: Are you willing to forge a new habit—one that gives the benefit of doubt to another, one that strives to see the best in another?
Watch your habits; they become character. I love the simplicity of this statement. I know of no one who wants to be anything less than a person of good character, which is revealed in what we think, what we say, and how we act. Defining good character is a bit like defining pornography—you may have trouble wrapping the right words around it, but you know it when you see it. And so, I ask, do your thoughts, words, and actions reveal you to be a person of such good character that you would recommend yourself to another?
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny. I invite you to look up quotes about destiny. You will see many that have the same idea as Lao Tzu’s. And so I ask, my question again primarily directed at people serving in public life, especially congress: How do you want to be seen by others right now, by your children and grandchildren many years from now, and by the people you serve? Are you representing the highest and the best for yourself? Are you willing for others to have their highest and best?
All if it begins right now with what you think. As a wise Ernest Holmes once said, “Change your thinking, change your life.”