Guest post by Landon Saunders
A young father found out that he would soon die. He thought about what he might wish for his children, and what he decided was closely tied to something he had tried to bring to their lives each day when he was well.
As this father was tucking his children into bed, he would talk to them about the fun they had that day. Then, every night, he would ask them this question: “Well, what do you think? Do you think we should find some more fun tomorrow, or do you think we should skip a day?”
Sometimes the father and his children would tease each other a bit, joking that maybe they should miss a day. But they would always decide that they should definitely find some more fun tomorrow.
Now, that may not sound like the most profound question that’s ever been asked, but, to this father, it was full of meaning. He wanted for his children—even after he was gone—to ask themselves as they went to sleep each night, “Should I find some more fun tomorrow, or, as Dad used to ask, should I skip a day?”
Human beings have an incredible gift for fun—fun being a child’s word for joy. Throughout our lives, we will encounter people, places and things that can distract from this gift of joy, but don’t take the bait. Every day has within it the capacity for the experience of joy.
We all can participate in the legacy that this wonderful father left for his children and ask ourselves, “Should I find some more fun tomorrow, or should I skip a day?”
In his first inaugural address, with the dark clouds of possible civil war threatening, Abraham Lincoln said a remarkable thing:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
We know, of course, what happened in the days after he spoke those words. The Civil War began, and it was the bloodiest, most devastating conflict in American history, taking the lives of an estimated 750,000 individuals—not counting the wounded.
How difficult it is to keep listening to our better angels! And yet, what a crucially important task. The darker the clouds, the more we need to keep reaching up for our better, higher self—for that more generous, more genuine, more generative, more gentle self.
And the good news is, those better angels are still alive and well. They are working quietly behind the scenes, as they always do.
We see them in the healthcare workers and other essential workers who get up every day and go to work. We see them in the parents and grandparents raising the children to be in touch with their own better angels. We see them in community volunteers and in every individual who seeks to do the right thing, make peace, and share joy.
In fact, the better angels may be even more powerful than we think. In 2011, Steven Pinker of Harvard, published his book, The Better Angels Of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.
Pinker makes a convincing case that, despite appearances, the world is actually less violent today than perhaps it has ever been. He describes the “better angels” as the forces and attitudes and developments that have helped make it that way.
But there is still much to do, of course, and every person is needed.
Yes, listening to and responding to our “better angels” is challenging. But it may be the most important work we can do.
Guest post by Landon Saunders
Beethoven once wrote to a friend, “Slight misunderstandings often occur between us, but they only serve to strengthen the relationship.
Misunderstandings and conflicts in relationships are, of course, unavoidable. They’re like thunderstorms. We always seem to get caught in them without our umbrellas. But, handled with the right attitude, misunderstandings can clarify, and conflicts can even strengthen a relationship.
Here’s how: we can develop the courage to speak honestly with each other and discuss disagreements openly, and we can learn to sort through our feelings and determine which ones are caused by another person and which have been self-inflicted. So often, the things we call “personality conflicts” are really unrecognized conflicts with our own selves.
So, first, look for the source of the conflict within yourself. Then you can more easily decide to be open to true dialogue. You can reconsider the ways you’ve always done or thought or been. It isn’t a matter of jumping through anyone else’s hoops or blindly accepting another person’s point of view. It’s a matter of being open and free to change if you see a better way. It’s about a willingness to be truly present—even in conflict—with family, friends, and colleagues.
Yes, being open can be a painful and vulnerable experience, but the rewards are great. “Better to be wounded in the battle for love than always to walk in armor,” says Margaret Fuller. Don’t let anything keep you from doing what you need to do to enhance and improve and strengthen those important relationships in your life. Because, on the last day of your life, they will matter a great deal. To win at relationships—even through troubles, misunderstandings and conflicts—is one of the most important ways of winning as a human being.
With all the adversity and distress we’re facing now (and will be facing for months to come), it just feels like the right moment to again remind us of a little poem that I shared earlier this year.
It’s from Martin Tupper, English writer and poet:
Never give up!—if adversity presses,
Providence wisely has mingled the cup.
And the best counsel in all your distresses,
Is the stout watchword, “Never give up!”
(You might even want to print this out and put it up on your fridge or mirror where you can see it every day.)
As Abraham Lincoln might have put it: We must never give up seeking to follow the better angels of our nature. I think we have an idea of some of the things that might suggest.
Never give up on the meaning and value of every life, including yours and mine.
Never give up being a peace maker and loving our neighbors.
Never give up believing there is more to my story and more to your story…and more to our story as a nation.
Never give up fighting for people, not against them.
Never give up on creating joy and passing it on.
Never give up learning and growing and going deeper as a person.
…Or make up your own list.
But as you think about your list, remember Churchill’s speech to his people at the height of World War II, when London was being bombed every night.
Here is that speech in its entirety, given in Churchill’s famous growl:
“Never, never, never, never, never, never give up!”
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Staying Strong in the time of the Coronavirus
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