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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Remembering What Really Matters

I have always loved this quote. In fewer than 50 words, it causes me to stop and think about what truly is important in life. It calls on me to be a better steward of this earth, and to be a stronger voice for the voiceless. It reminds me to focus on the important things in life, not the material trappings of our society. A hundred years, or 50 years, from now, no one will have the slightest idea of what kind of house I lived in or what kind of car I drove. Nor will they care.

My daughter shares my love of animals, and she volunteered many hours at a local animal shelter before school and a part-time job consumed her life. Perhaps, if I am lucky, my descendants will understand that I cared deeply about the animals both domestic and wild that share this world with us. Maybe they will look back on photographs of my animals, and of the wolves I cherish, and know that their ancestor in the early 21st century cared more about other creatures than about a house or car.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Do the Right Thing

The time is always right to do what is right. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

This simple sentence could not have crossed my computer screen at a more appropriate time. The news in 2013, as in previous years, was filled with terrible things: a young college student shot in the back and killed by three teenage thugs because they were 'bored.' A World War II veteran beaten and killed by two teenage thugs in a failed robbery attempt. Hundreds of innocent Syrian civilians murdered by their own government, which unleashed a deadly chemical attack on them. A dozen people murdered at the Washington Navy Yard. A well-liked high school student died after being shot in the head by a classmate who was upset with one of his teachers. Closer to home, and less significant but still disturbing: another (unknown) student at the cosmetology school my daughter attends keeps stealing her lunch from the refrigerator. A young woman we know repeatedly steals from various local stores. Her excuse? She doesn't have a job and therefore she has no money. Sorry, girlie, that still doesn't give you the right to steal.

So why is it so difficult to do what is right? I know there are many people who do the right thing. These people stop to help a stranded motorist, they pick up a frightened dog or cat from the middle of the road, they report cases of suspected domestic violence or child abuse; they risk their lives to save complete strangers from fire or accident.They return lost purses to lost-and-found. These are the unsung heroes among us. They do their good deeds with no fanfare or recognition; they do these things simply because it is the right thing to do.

But so many others do not do the right thing. Sometimes, they probably think that someone else will get involved or report the abuse. Or they rationalize their inaction by telling themselves they are too busy, or they don't know what to do. Some people undoubtedly just don't care about others. Still others may take a 'what's in it for me' attitude.

Regardless of the reason, our world seems to be awash with people who not only don't do the right thing, but who also do the wrong thing -- stealing, killing, lying or any of a number of other large offenses.

Since when is being 'bored' a reason to murder someone? Why do people feel that cyber-bullying is OK? Why does someone point a gun at another motorist in a case of road rage? Has our country completely lost its moral compass? Does our population really now include that many people with serious mental illnesses? From where did this pervasive 'me first' attitude come?

When I was growing up, honesty, hard work and integrity were instilled in me and my siblings by our parents. Today, the parents often are just as guilty as the children. Consider the case of a professional athlete whose vacation home was trashed by more than 300 teenagers who broke in, had a party and destroyed the inside of the house. Rather than reporting the young people to the police, he invited them to return to his house to clean it up and repair the damage. Were the parents grateful that their precious offspring wouldn't be charged by the police? No, they were outraged that the athlete had published the names of the teens and photographs of the party, taken by some of the teens and posted on social media sites. Some parents are even threatening to sue him.

There seems to be no sense of personal responsibility. I was raised to 'fess up' to misdeeds and mistakes, and to face the consequences. Today, it seems, there are few consequences. How many times have I read about someone pleading 'not guilty' in the face of overwhelming evidence of guilt? Look at the excuses people use to explain their crimes: I'm from a broken home. I was abused as a child. Nobody ever told me that I shouldn't steal. I was raised in an affluent family and suffer from 'affluenza.' Really? Being raised in a wealthy family is now an excuse for a 16-year-old boy to steal a car, get drunk and kill several innocent people.

I wish there were a simple way to get people to do the right thing. What can we as a society do, other than to make certain that we always do the right thing, and teach our children by example. Practice random acts of kindness. Pay for the coffee of the person behind you in line. Hold the door for someone. Let a car merge ahead of you. Report suspected abuse of children, animals, spouses and the elderly. Be the voice of the voiceless. Maybe together we can light a spark that will ignite a movement and encourage others to do the right thing.