What gives your life significance? What makes it count?
The famed cellist Pablo Casals said:
“I feel the capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance.”
He’s saying that if I want to fill my life with greater significance, I can start by caring more deeply, more genuinely about the people around me.
And if I care—really care—I have to do something.
Maybe I have to listen longer and harder, to really hear the person.
Maybe I need to be more fully present with people.
Maybe I need to be someone they can count on, someone who is fun to be with.
A song from Jackson Browne has these disturbing lyrics:
“Oh people look around you, the signs are everywhere; you’ve left it to someone other than you to be the one to care.”
That cuts deep, doesn’t it?
It’s like the old joke about the two friends. One friend says to the other, “What do you think is wrong with the world? Is it ignorance or apathy?”
The other friend says, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
But maybe what sounds like a downer is actually an invitation—a call to be the one who is different, the one who really sees and hears people, the one who is patient and understanding and forgiving…to be the one who cares.
Robert Frost gave us a peek into his way of looking at life when he said:
“What is required is sight and insight—then you might add one more: excite.”
Imagine starting the day with these three questions:
What will I see today? And how well will I see it?
What insight will I gain today? Insight into others, into myself…into life?
What will excite me today? Will anything stir me to my depths?
To slow down and quiet down and sit with those three questions perhaps for a few moments in the morning…not a bad way to get ready for a day!
Here’s a little different thought about how to succeed from Albert Einstein:
“Try not to become a person of success but rather try to become a person of value.”
I think we can see what he’s getting at.
It’s good and appropriate to receive the outward rewards of being good at what you do. But at some point, outward rewards alone don’t nurture the inner person. Don’t bring lasting fulfillment.
The deeper rewards and more lasting fulfillment come from knowing I am “a person of value”—and I have something valuable to bring to any job, challenge, relationship.
It’s about knowing you are a human being—the most valuable thing in the world—and you have human qualities to bring to each situation—humor, wisdom, imagination, etc.
It’s about knowing you are one of a kind—unlike any other person—and you have something unique to bring each day.
The one focused primarily on outward success may ride over an annoying customer because, well, where’s the payback?
But the one focused on being a person of value will treat that annoying customer with respect, even if there is no immediate payback. Because that’s who she is.
“Try to become a person of value.”
Can we sense the quiet greatness of this quest?
I would never presume to give advice to other parents. But I do think Fitzhugh Dodson’s words sound a relieving and realistic note and are worth passing on:
You have the right to make mistakes in bringing up your own children: Blunder bravely! Go ahead and make your mistakes, but believe more bravely that, on the whole, you are doing a good job of raising your children…
You have the right to be yourself. Allow your child to be himself, and you will raise a happy and psychologically healthy individual. The same reasoning applies to you as a parent. So raise your child in your own unique way. Have the courage to be yourself—as a husband, or a wife, and, above all, as a parent!
Look, it’s obviously a good thing to try to model and teach good values for your kids. I see many young parents today doing a good job with this—maybe better than we baby boomers did a generation ago.
But Dodson reminds us that, as parents (and grandparents), we may also need to just take a deep breath and relax once in a while—just be our own imperfect selves.
And our kids may be hoping we will!
I heard a speaker who said he wished he could go to parents everywhere and just say three words: “You are forgiven.”
The circumstances are never ideal.
If I ever follow that dream…or become my best self…or make a difference…or find joy and fulfillment…(put in here whatever goal you want to pursue)…it will have to be done in circumstances that are in many ways not favorable to those pursuits.
There will always be the drag of the ordinary, the drain of routine, the relationship problems, the work problems, the reasons to postpone or just go with the flow.
That’s why I like George Bernard Shaw’s words:
People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them make them.
Remember the movie Dances With Wolves? Native Americans saw Kevin Costner’s character dancing around a wolf and gave him that name as a sign of respect.
Starting now, may we call you Dances With Circumstances?