Today is the third International Day of Awesomeness, a holiday I invented back in 2007. For the past three years, I’ve tried to perform a “feat of awesomeness” to commemorate the day. The first year, I dyed my hair blue, something I’d always wanted to do but never had the guts to actually do. Last year’s was less obvious, but there was a huge layoff at AOL the day before, so I wrote LinkedIn recommendations for all of my friends that got laid off instead of doing something else. This year, I walked around Forsyth Park with my friends Murray and Tom (something they do three times a week at 6:30AM), poorly organized a lunch at a brand new restaurant downtown, and am now doing part three – writing a manifesto. I wanted to write down, for the world to see, what I believe in and what I aspire to be. But, I remembered this TED Talk from Barry Schwartz and realized that he sums up most of it in 20 minutes of eloquence. So, watch it, and then join me down below.
He talks quite a bit about “moral heroes” and celebrating them. My moral heroes are pretty simple: Mister Rogers, Elwood P. Dowd and Jesus Christ. All three men (fictional or not) contain the attributes I aspire to. They’re kind, empathetic and gentle.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want my kids to learn from me, and here’s the (very short) list I’ve come up with:
- Be kind to everyone.
- Do no harm.
I think that if I can live those two things, everything else that I could do that would be considered good or worthwhile will follow naturally. As Jesus said, “And the second [great commandment] is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matthew 22:39). Elwood P. Dowd, the protagonist in Harvey said it like this, “Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be’ – she always called me Elwood – ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”
I don’t know about choosing between being smart or pleasant. I hope it’s possible to be both.
And, I obviously stole the second item in the list from the Hippocratic Oath, but I think it applies to everyone, not just doctors. To me, that means not just avoiding physical harm but emotional. If you’re kind and empathetic, you’re not going to intentionally cause any kind of harm to anyone else – and you’re much less likely to cause it unintentionally.
The world is full of well-meaning people who forget about empathy. We hear it every day: “I can’t imagine anyone living like that / doing that / feeling that way / loving that person / doing that to themselves / etc.” That shows a problem with their imagination, not with the other people. The things one person can’t imagine are held deeply by others. The things one person thinks are disgusting are the deepest feelings of another’s heart. We try to legislate away everything that makes us uncomfortable. We try to push deep down inside us those feelings that we can’t express because we lack the imagination to invent the words for them.
I refuse to believe that there is too little imagination in the world for us to accept each other. Being “tolerant” isn’t good enough.
If the second great commandment is to “love thy neighbor as thyself”, then nothing else can trump that, not the Old Testament, not Paul’s epistles, nothing else in Christian scripture beats Jesus Christ telling us to love each other (if you’re a Christian that is – if you’re not, that’s fine, the golden rule is a fairly universal concept – see the Charter for Compassion).
If my kids learn that from me, then I think I’ve done my job. It doesn’t matter what else they learn from me. If they grow up to be gentlemen, in the truest simplest definition of the word, then I’ll be happy.
How are you supposed to end a manifesto? I think I’ll end it with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr, who is on my “expanded” list of moral heroes:
Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, or retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.