I just completed my ethical will (for now – I know I’ll keep revising it forever),and it was a very enlightening experience. Although I consider myself to be quite in tune with my values and think about them regularly, the writing process really made me consider them in more detail than I’d done before. I think this is an immensely valuable experience that can benefit people of any age.
Some of the values I’d like to impart are things I’ve struggled with throughout my life and am still coming to terms with. In particular, I have had to learn the importance of practicing patience, taking your time, and thinking independently. I’ve learned these traits through trial and error and many years of “learning the hard way.”
I believe that life is much, much happier if you can be patient with other people, circumstances, and yourself. Teach yourself to accept the unknown, because, to paraphrase an old cliché, “the only thing certain in life, besides death, is
uncertainty.” It can be extremely difficult to accept that you don’t know what will happen and to have to wait to see how things pan out, but you will be immeasurably happier if you can find effective strategies to do so. Watch the birds, smell the flowers – these are not clichés but rather important coping strategies.
I recently finished a remarkable book by Eknath Easwaran entitled Take Your Time: Finding Balance in a Hurried World. I highly recommend reading this book and taking it to heart, as I’ve been trying to do. Trying to do more than one thing at a time dilutes your ability to do anything with focus and commitment. This is a big challenge in our multitasking society, but it’s worth the effort. Try to find ways to resist the societal pressure to hurry and to always be busy, and try to pause before making big decisions (but don’t waffle on them either; make up your mind while in a relaxed state, and then stick with it!).
The above two traits – patience and working at a slower pace – require you to commit to a strong sense of value and to abide by your own set of rules rather than those dictated by society. If you go along with what “everyone” else is doing, you may find yourself rushing in a direction that’s not right for you. I did this in my 20s and it took a number a years to get back with my true values. Don’t let anyone (parents, friends, spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, boss, etc.) overshadow your instincts and common sense and values. Think very carefully about your own values before going along with someone else’s.
Don’t abandon your childhood passions; they will come back to haunt you! If your childhood delight was walking in the woods and listening to the birds, don’t stop doing that just because you’re grown up. If you do, you might find yourself with an emptiness that you won’t know how to fill. I strongly believe we must all honor our childhood passions.
Never stop exploring and learning new things. Always be open to taking classes, reading, and finding other ways to learn about things that you’ve either had a passing interest in or that you have never tried before. This is easy for me, as I’m curious about so many things. One problem I’ve had has been trying to find something to become really good at rather than continuing to try so many new things and remain a beginner at each of them. I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps I’m meant to be a “dabbler” rather than an expert, and that’s OK. Whether you decide to specialize or generalize, don’t ever stop learning and inquiring.
Be curious about geography, and explore the world as much as you can. Travel opens your eyes to new ideas and viewpoints more than any other type of experience, including school. I believe that everyone with the means should leave the country and visit someplace very different from home (some of my favorites have been China, India, Brazil, South Africa… I love England, too, and think everyone should spend some time there if possible, but it’s not different enough to provide a true cultural “wake-up”). Nothing opens your mind more than interacting with people of other cultures on their own turf and experiencing what it’s like to be a racial and linguistic minority.
Know your town and community. Learn about where the water comes from, where the sewage goes, where your tax dollars are spent, who makes the decisions. Not only will this knowledge come in handy if you need to get something fixed, but you’ll feel connected in a very positive way to the land and people where you live.
Likewise, get to know your neighbors. I’ve lived several places where the neighbors wanted no more interaction than an occasional “hi” in the driveway, and I thought that was very sad. Hold a holiday or summer party; even if few people show up, you’ll know you’ve done your part in engendering good will in your neighborhood.
Practice environmental stewardship every day, in every way possible. This is much easier said than done, as every single action we take affects the environment in some way or other, and our culture of convenience, waste, and separation from the land does not foster environmental protection. Learn about environmentally- and socially-responsible products and, if at all possible, be willing to pay a little more for them. Before doing something, take a few seconds to think about how your actions will impact the environment and other people, and be willing to rethink your plans if necessary. Again, this can be a tall order, and I’m in no way perfect at it, but it’s something I value and am working on.
Please do everything in your power to care for the animals in our midst. They are innocent and are so greatly impacted by human behaviors, and there are too many unkind people who do not value them. Do not forget that cows, chickens, and other food animals have souls, too, and that they’re treated very poorly in the modern “factory farms” from which our meat is purchased.
Volunteer your time and money when possible. Many wise souls (like Gandhi) have noted that the way to true happiness is to give to others, and I believe this. Consumerism and materialism are such draining forces in our society, and they can rob you of your time as well as your money. If you choose to live simply but devote your resources to people and causes that need your help, you won’t have much time or money to shop, and you’ll therefore have more time to help people! So, it can be a positive or a negative spiral, depending on what you make of it.
If you choose to go against the consumerist grain, it can be helpful to make as many friends as possible who share your values. Just retain the ability to respect and enjoy the company of people who are not exactly like you.
Above all, do everything in your power to enjoy life in a sustainable, loving way. Don’t be afraid to make changes or try new things, and educate yourself about how the world works. Be a good friend and listener, and don’t hesitate to ask for help when you feel you need it. Enjoy yourself, and help others (people and creatures) enjoy their lives as well!