This week I’m sharing some things I believe with respect to living a meaningfully productive life–a life that matters as I define it.
The productive exercise of creating a manifesto for making a life that matters
A manifesto is defined as “a public declaration of policy and aims”. It’s most often used in the context of organizations or even political campaigns. For me, this is a statement of some of the things I believe are crucial components of a life that matters.
Notice that I call it a manifesto, not the manifesto. These are things I believe. I’m not telling you you must believe the same, but I hope these will inspire you to think about, and even write down, what you believe about what constitutes a life that matters as you define it.
Some of my core beliefs, and how these beliefs relate to making a life that matters
1. I have my beliefs and opinions about various things–some of them very strong–but I always keep in mind the very real possibility that I might be wrong.
For that reason, when encountering people or ideas I disagree with, I need to listen to understand, not to refute. I recently saw this quote in a cartoon:
“Most people don’t really want the truth. They just want constant reassurance that what they believe is the truth.”
2. It’s impossible to be happy if my focus is on what I don’t have instead of what I do.
This is true as to material possessions, skills and talents, physical attributes, and options. As Eckhart Tolle has said:
“All stress is caused by being here, but wanting to be there.”
3. Growing older doesn’t automatically equate with maturity, and maturity is a key component of a meaningfully productive life. I agree with something I recently read in an old Dear Abby column:
“This is maturity: To be able to stick with a job until it’s finished; to do one’s duty without being supervised; to be able to carry money without spending it; and to be able to bear an injustice without wanting to get even.”
4. My life today is the result of the choices I made yesterday and the day before and 10 years ago and 10 minutes ago. If I don’t like where I am today, I can make different choices to change the trajectory of my life.
In believing this I’m not trivializing the impact of outside circumstances, and I recognize that there is a difference between options and choices. An option is a thing and a choice is an action. We don’t all have the same options at any given stage of our life. Our options might be different because of our environment, our background, etc.
But we all have choices. And sometimes our choices limit our options. For example: If I choose to work hard and get good grades in high school, I’ll have more options when it comes to colleges and scholarships to help pay for them.
5. Disagreement isn’t hate; hate is hate.
A safe space isn’t one where no one disagrees with me; it’s a place where I can disagree without hatred. I can love someone and still disagree with something they say or do. On the other hand, I can’t inspire someone to love by spewing hate at them. As I’ve said before, no one’s mind has ever been changed by someone standing at a distance and throwing rocks at them. The ability to influence anyone stems from a relationship with them.
6. The only way to get through life without constant misery is to extend grace to each other and to ourselves.
What it means to extend grace to each other is to give them the benefit of the doubt. Assume the best until proven otherwise. We tend to interpret the actions and words of people we don’t like in the worst possible light, but those of the people we know and love in the best possible light. When someone we’ve decided we don’t like someone, no matter what they do–even objectively good things–we assume a selfish or evil motive. Yet when someone we love does or says something that appears wrong or bad, we assume there’s a reasonable explanation for it– “she didn’t mean it that way”; “she was under unusual stress”; etc. Keep in mind you don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s heart.
What it means to extend grace to yourself can be summed up in this quote I saw on social media:
“Before your head hits the pillow tonight, remind yourself of the things you did right. Let go of the things you could have done better. Be patient with yourself, and remember that big things are achieved not all at once, but rather one day at a time.”
7. What helps me to extend grace is to remember this: Everyone is doing the best they can with the resources they have at the moment.
This includes me. I wish I’d been a better mother when my children were younger. I wish I’d been more patient. I wish I’d yelled less. I wish I had done more special things with them. This is just one example of where I need to extend grace to myself. I did the best I could with the emotional and other resources I had at the time. As Maya Angelou used to say, when you know better, you do better.
Even the person who drives me the craziest, or the one who’s doing the most awful things, is doing the best he or she can given the mental, emotional, psychological, and other resources available to them at that moment.
This doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be consequences for the awful things. But before I choose to hate or dismiss someone as inhuman, I have to pause and consider, there but for the grace of God go I. Though I might be convinced I would never do something I’m criticizing in another person, when I look back at the first thing on this list [I might be wrong], I have to acknowledge that I cannot know what I might be capable of if my circumstances, background, experiences, whatever, pushed me beyond my limits.
8. We should look out for each other.
As author Elizabeth Gilbert has said, “Those of us who are warm and dry and safe and well-fed must show up for those who are cold and wet and endangered and hungry.” She goes on to point out that “That’s a rule of life. Every ethical and religious and spiritual tradition in the world agrees on that rule.”
I don’t believe it’s someone else’s job to do this. I don’t believe it’s the government’s job to do this. It’s mine. Instead of looking at something like this and thinking of it as a rule for others, I should think of how it applies to me.
And when I get overwhelmed by the need I have to remember that even though I can’t help everyone, I can help someone.
9. My job in life isn’t to make other people do good in the world. It’s to do good myself.
And maybe to hope that by my example I can expire someone else to do good too.
10. I cannot control my circumstances, my environment, or other people. But I can control my own mind, and thereby my own emotions. Nobody can make me feel anything I don’t choose to feel.
What do you think?
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Royse City, Texas