By now, I hope my daughters have seen the man I try to be every day. Not just when they’re watching, but even when nobody else is around. Character is defined by what we do when we think nobody is watching. But living a life of trying to lead by example, I’m struck by how I see the world these days.
The events in Charlottesville are unbelievable. I can’t wrap my head around the kind of hate necessary to drive into a group of people at speed. It boggles my mind, honestly. And unfortunately it’s not an isolated incident.
If I take a step back however, I think it comes down to the idea that many of us seem to think that our everyday actions lack consequences.
Nearly every day, I see one or more of these behaviors:
- Not stopping at a stop sign simply because there’s nobody else waiting, nobody is walking, and there isn’t a cop watching the scene to hold you accountable for your actions.
- Staring at your phone while in a group of people because whatever the other people are doing is less important than the microcosm of activity on your tiny device.
- Not stopping to listen to an authority figure such as a coach, teacher, or parent, because whatever they’re saying isn’t as important as the thoughts you have in your own head or what they’re saying doesn’t jive with what you believe to be true.
- Not living your life because you’re too busy living vicariously through the lives and thoughts of others who choose to share their opinions and activities on social media on an almost moment to moment basis.
We’ve encouraged a society of people to believe that their actions have no consequences. We’ve enabled people in our society to stop paying attention to the world around them. We’ve handed our lives over to tiny devices and huge systems run by people and organizations who we don’t really know and we really don’t know what they’re doing with our data.
Beyond giving up my phone, ending my career as a software engineer, and becoming a hermit or joining a monastery far from the influences of “Western” society, I’m not sure how to combat this. And even then I’m, once again, only trying to lead by example.
- I stop at stop signs because it’s the right thing to do. I try to slow down and take it easy because arriving at my destination is much more important than getting there at the speed of light.
- I try to put down my phone as often as I can when people are talking to me. The real world trumps the virtual one.
- I try to listen to what’s going on in the world around me. It’s amazing what I pick up when that happens. And though I may not agree with everything I hear, I have the power to choose not to believe everything I hear and read. Instead, I go with my gut a lot more. And it’s right more often than I’m willing to admit.
- And I’m guilty of oversharing on social media. I know I am. Do I stop? I just don’t know.
I’m not a religious man by any stretch of the imagination, but some of the teachings in those good books seem pretty good about now. Love thy neighbor. Do unto others as you would have done to you. Respect your elders. Listen. Make the world a better place. All the platitudes we seem to ignore as a population these days. Putting them into practice is the tough part.
My hope is that by doing the things that need to be done, listening as best I can, and being the best person I can given the circumstances of any given moment, it’s enough. I can’t control anybody but myself, so I really do hope it’s enough.