You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.
Crosby, Stills and Nash
“Teach Your Children”
A couple of weeks ago while driving around town, I was in the mood for something “singable” so I threw Deja Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young into the CD player. Now, I’ve owned this CD since 1991 and it has gone on many a road trip with me, so I know this album inside and out, but for the first time, those particular lyrics hit me. Undoubtably resonating with me because of the journey I am on myself.
I think we all have our own codes that we live by. Our code comes from how we were raised, what we learned from the people around us, our own inner compass, our experiences and more. I think of my personal code as not only the big guiding principles, but as also the small rules I hold myself to. For example, here are a few of mine: never drop by uninvited. Always pay your bills, in full and and on time. Always use fresh garlic, real lemons, actual ginger root, and fresh parsley; there are no substitutes for any of these. Don’t discuss politics or religion. And here are a couple I use that I learned from my family: When in doubt, go left. (From my sister.) Buy good tools. (From my dad.) Buy good quality shoes. (From my mother.)
Those big guiding principles? I’ve been thinking about them as well. That’s lead me to thinking about family mottos, coats of arms and even branding statements. How would I define mine? I’m still working on it, but I think it would look something like: Loyalty, Respect, Responsibility and the Right to tell Stories. It’s a bit clunky, but it covers four of the truths I live by.
Honestly, I am not very good at the traditional conventions of friendship. By that I mean I am fairly terrible at calling people “just to check in” or even getting together on a regular basis. I tend not to get too deeply involved in other people’s lives, I don’t ask personal questions – I feel it is better to respect people’s privacy and let them choose what they want to tell me. (Although, that last one has lead to some awkward moments when people I have known for years assumed I knew things about them I didn’t.) The truth is, I am (and have always been) a bit of a hermit at heart. However, I am also cognizant enough of my own mental health to know that people are important. I am someone who really could live alone on an island, but it is much better for me if I don’t. At the same time, it takes me forever to warm up to “new” people and I don’t make friends easily. (This is mellowing a bit with age, but stills hold true.) Hence, I am very careful about the people I choose to have around me. There are folks I could lightly call friends, but the true deep core group is very small – and I like it that way. These are people who make my life richer, deeper and more meaningful. They consist of family and friends who I love with all my heart, and who I will give everything for. It is to them that my loyalty lies.
In general, I don’t think much of humankind. As I said, there are individuals that I love deeply, but when you get into the whole sticky, rolling, chaotic mass of mankind – I don’t think much of us as a whole. We’ve done some great things, but we’ve also done many more truly terrible ones. That being said, I still deeply believe in giving everyone respect. By respect I mean two things – the first is day-to-day respect and the second is more philosophical.
I love etiquette. I love the idea that there are simple rules for how to behave in most situations. All those rules by Miss Manners and Emily Post are, for the most part, designed to keep things civil, calm and polite. They keep people from embarrassment and out of uncomfortable situations. From how to handle a fork, to what to wear to a wedding, to how to write a thank you note, etiquette shows us what to do. I believe that we should treat everyone with this kind of daily respect. Look people in the eye, treat them kindly, say “please” and “thank you”, and try not to be a jerk. It’s the little things that make life easier for everyone.
The other type of respect is more nebulous, but even more important. I believe everyone has the right to pursue their own version of the American dream – regardless of what that is, regardless of whether they are American or not. Of course, not everyone wants a white house with a picket fence, a spouse, two kids and a dog, (heck, I don’t want those things, except the dog part,) and not everyone, not even the majority of people, are Americans. (There’s a whole other world out there, much bigger than the U.S. of A – something I think a lot of my fellow Americans forget.) But in this case “the American dream” is my verbal shortcut for the idea that people should have the right to work for the life they want.
Respect means that we shouldn’t try to force everyone into the same mold. We are all different and we want different things. We don’t need to know why someone wants what they want, they just do. Respect means they have the right to pursue that – and it also means allowing them to fail. Just because you want to be a rock star doesn’t mean you get to be one, but I will defend your right to try.
People aren’t always smart and good. They are often idiots or jackasses, and frequently both, but I still believe in their right to civility and to have freedom to live their lives how they see best. What I don’t believe in is harming other people, infringing on other’s lives with my beliefs, or telling people how to live. I’m a live and let live kind of gal, and a lot of that comes out of respect. Personally, I think everyone should be the same. There would be a lot less pain and sadness in the world if we could all just respect one and other.
That said, I also believe we have certain responsibilities. We are responsible for our choices – for our lives, our relationships, our decisions, and just as importantly, for ourselves. I believe that if you choose to own something, you should do your best to take care of it, whether it is a house, a pet, a car or radial arm saw. Ownership implies responsibility.
In relationships, if you choose to include someone in your life, you have a responsibility to be a decent person to them. That doesn’t mean caring for people who would hurt you, it means being honest, even if that means saying “no.” It’s the Golden Rule, which says it better than I ever could. I also believe that when you choose to make a decision, you are responsible for it. That means living up to a commitment, standing by your word, but it also being humble enough to admit when you are wrong. Responsibility means that we don’t always get to do what we would want to do, but we do what is right away.
And finally, I believe in being responsible to ourselves. If we are going to be able to take care of the other people and things in our lives, we have to take care of ourselves. I admit, this is something I struggle with, as I have a tendency to burn the candle at both ends, yet though I may struggle, it doesn’t change my fundamental belief that we have to be as good to ourselves as we are with others.
The Right to Tell Stories
Alright, I know this one feels awkwardly tacked on the end, but it is such a driving force of my life that I had to include it. I was going to say something about “making art,” instead because that sounded, um… artier, but for me, the point of art is the story. It doesn’t matter how the story is told – through words, dance, song, paint – whatever. It doesn’t matter if you understand the story or not, if not, it probably wasn’t for you. The next one might be, however. Stories are magic, inspiring, educational, amusing, touching and they are what brings us together. Everyone has a story.
I am a story enabler. I write some of my own here in this blog, but a big part of who I am is helping others to tell their stories. Whether that is being a judge at a storytelling competition, volunteering at theatre that believes in thought provoking stories, being an avid reader, or just sitting and listening to someone tell a tale, I am here to help the stories be told.
I’m not saying that I am perfect at all these things. Sometimes I hurt friends, I am rude to strangers, I forget a responsibility (or dodge one.) Yet, these are the things in my life that are important to me, a major part of who I am, and dictates much of what I do. It is the code that I must live by.