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Life Statement January 3, 2009

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Ramblings.
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The coming of a New Year is always a time for introspection. Some mark the occasion by reflecting upon the year that was and looking forward to the year that will be, often with a list of resolutions in tow that, it is hoped, help them turn over the proverbial new leaf. With the same sentiment in mind, I thought it would be appropriate to go an entirely different route by developing my own personal mission statement — a life statement, if you will.

You might think it a bit much, but the notion of a personal mission statement isn’t unusual at all. Personally, I recall first coming across the idea in Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I grant, however, that it’s not for everyone — neither are New Year’s resolutions, mind — and the fact that it’s taken over a decade to get around to making one for myself goes to show that it’s one of those concepts that does take a while to warm up to.

It’s not easy to figure out exactly how to express what I would like my life to be about in a simple statement. There are just so many things to consider in order to get it just right. But in the course muddling through, the one thing that I did keep in mind (oddly enough) was that whatever I came up with had to be as catchy as Google’s. It’s no secret that I admire the company’s philosophy, particularly that part of it that can be summarized in the words “don’t be evil“. That right there is a great principle to abide by, not just for corporations but for individuals, too.

Yet the more I thought about it, something was lacking. On balance, I don’t want my life to be guided by the words “Don’t be evil”; I’d rather have it defined by the principle “Do good”.

There is a difference. The former is a prohibition (it speaks of what not to do), whereas the latter encourages (by conveying exactly what should be done). While it can be argued that the first is more elegant in the sense that it gives more room to maneuver, I submit that the latter is the better of the two precisely because it is harder to live by. Can one truly avoid doing some evil in any situation? I doubt it, good intentions and situation ethics not withstanding. On the other hand, can a person do some good even in the face of bad circumstances? I would like to think so, and if only for that reason the latter comes across as a superior yardstick to be measured against.

Yes, life should be about doing good. But not in the dole-out sense of the word. It’s about helping out where one is able. Aspiring to be extraordinary. Striving for excellence. Having passion for one’s work. Showing compassion for others. Being fair to all parties concerned (including oneself) in all circumstances. Occasionally, it also means making the most out of a bad situation, such that it results in as positive an outcome as possible. None of these for the sake of vanity or popularity or so you can give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. Rather, each of these things for their own sake — and because by so doing, one leaves the world a little better than one found it.

Admittedly, none of these things are easy. In fact, they may even be a tad naive. But does it really matter? Nothing worthwhile ever came easily, and sometimes it’s the most naive of principles (think of the life lessons you picked up in kindergarten) that we end up carrying with us for the rest of our lives and have the most meaning. And yes, it goes without saying that I wish I could express these thoughts more eloquently, but failing that I suppose there’s no way one can go wrong with keeping it simple and direct to the point:

Do good.

Enrich the lives of others.

Enable them to achieve their potential.

Empower them to be good, too.

That’s my life statement. What’s yours?

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