Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that I spend a lot of my time and energy trying to figure out how to be the best Chili I can be. I was put in this existence for a reason, I reckon, and it would be wasteful of me to go through this life without being mindful of what the hell I’m supposed to be here doing.
I find it interesting, then, that a lot of things that I notice in my life all seem to whirl around similar patterns that make themselves clearly obvious to me again and again. Take my classes, for example: nearly all of the readings and speeches that I choose have a common theme of, well, commonality, even though I rarely choose a reading with the intent of finding something to fit that pattern – the Universe just seems to put these things in my path.
My latest readings have been of Archbishop Desmond Tutu telling a crowd at American University (and, by extension, me) that we all belong to each other – that none are free until all are free – and of Barak Obama, in his 2004 DNC keynote address, who said that “we are connected as one people. If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandmother. If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It’s [a] fundamental belief — I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper…” I read Speer, who tells us that the very best use of our intelligence and our skill and our technology is in humanitarian pursuits – in taking care of each other rather than trying to destroy each other – and I read Martin Luther King, Jr., who tells me that love is much, much stronger than hate, and that we are brothers and sisters with promises to each other that need to be kept. I listen to Bill Clinton tell us that in southern Africa, where he does a lot of work, there is a word – ubuntu – which means I am because you are. He tells a story about a greeting in that part of the world that doesn’t translate as ‘hello,’ or ‘how are you,’ but as I see you. EVERY time I hear that part of his speech, tears well up in my eyes; that resonates with something primal in me, and my spirit knows it to be an important truth.
If there is one guiding principle in my life, it’s this: we are all connected. We belong to each other. I have a responsibility that extends far, far beyond myself, and I believe that anything that happens to one of us happens to all of us.
If I’m going to truly live this philosophy, then, I have to consider how the way I think and behave affects everyone else. What kind of energy am I putting out into the Universe, and is it representative of the me I want to be?
This is why I believe it’s important to be nice. I believe that manners matter.
Can I be a raving bitch? Um, yeah. Can I be shortsighted and selfish and jealous and scared? Yep. I can be all those things, but, as often as I can, I try not to be.
I try to be the kind of person who brings light with her. I try to be the kind of person on whom others can depend for a strong shoulder and a sympathetic ear. I try to be reliable and practical and gentle and encouraging. I try to be a good wife and friend and mother and teacher. I try.
I try to be kind to people – ALL people: to strangers in the market, to participants in my fitness classes, to students at my college, and especially to my own family (because we’re so often not nice to the people we’re closest to). I smile at weary mothers of screaming babies in waiting rooms. I ask for my order in restaurants, rather than demand it. I look people in the eye and I try to really listen when they talk to me. I smile and wave at my neighbors when we pass each other in our driveways. I practice forgiveness whenever I can. I practice gratitude always.
Allison over at What if This is as Good as it Gets nominated me for a “Nice Matters” award. I am honored that this woman, whom I’ve never met in real life, sees me as worthy of this. I’m pleased to know that, at least in some small ways, my effort to be that kind of person leaks out.
I’m supposed to nominate seven more bloggers for this award. Recognize that my leaving you out does NOT mean I think you’re not nice, it only means I came up with these folks first, ‘kay?