I try to live by the three Rs: Always be Respectful, often be Responsible and sometimes show Restraint.
The first R, the respect, comes from my belief that everyone on earth has the ability to contribute something for the betterment of society.
I suppose it’s my faith in the fundamental goodness of human kind that underlies this belief, but the “always” part in particular doesn’t come easy.
For starters, I don’t need to look too far to find indecent people that I easily judge as unworthy. At a more philosophical level, I confess there is a troubling element in applying the principle to historical figures like Adolf Hitler, who was as equally evil as he was human.
But it’s also hard to show respect even to those whose motives are not so sinister. I am speaking about people whose views I disagree with, whose life choices I think are mistaken and whose attitudes I find unhelpful.
When I’m faced with dealing with such people, I recall what Randy Pausch said in his inspiring Last Lecture:
“Find the best in everybody. Wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you. It might even take years, but people will show you their good side. Just keep waiting.”
The “good” is found in each person’s uniqueness–in personality, in upbringing, in ancestry, in education, in career experience, in personality, in thought process and emotions, in favorites and distastes, in successes and failures, in strengths and weaknesses, in talents and skills, and in friends and company kept. The cumulation of these differences lead each person to respond to exactly the same situation in dramatically different ways. Such difference, what the politically-correct society now calls diversity, is invaluable in making the society at large a better place. It is for this reason that I always strive to give everyone due respect, even if it’s hard and even if I often fail.
Regarding the second R, responsibility, I have conflicting feelings.
On the one hand, responsibility is an essential element for an individual to excel and for society to thrive. There are many types of responsibility—to family, to colleagues, to society and to the self—but one thing all responsibilities have in common is that exhibiting them breeds trust and confidence. A society of millions can function only if each individual who comprise it has trust that things will turn out okay even if matters are mostly outside of his or her control.
Responsibility, though, can be constraining. Quitting a job for another that pays half as much isn’t a responsible thing to do for the family, even if the new job is doubly rewarding. Doing your own thing isn’t considered the responsible thing to do in Japan, even if the Japanese society can use some independent thought.
Sometimes a release from the shackles of responsibility is necessary to thrive. I suspect some of the greatest achievements in history were made possible only because a person had the audacity to do something many considered reckless at the time. The key is in the balance, with the scale tilted towards responsibility over recklessness. Society can simultaneously achieve stability and stimulation, I think, if everyone acts responsible most of the time but has the audacity to be irresponsible at just the right moments.
With the third R, the restraint, the “sometimes” part goes to the heart of my attitude towards life.
As much as I’d like to think I’m immortal, I realize that there will come a day when I will come to an end. And when that moment arrives, the one regret I do not wish to have is the wish that I had been the person I was meant to be.
So I intend to live my life as myself. In the things I do, the stuff I say and the matters I think about, I will go my own way, my surroundings be damned. I don’t intend on refraining from being myself.
Of course, this attitude inevitably clashes with my second R. Acting responsibly and restraining oneself are two sides of the same coin. I may want to drink but won’t if I’m being responsible about driving. I may want to talk politics and religion but shouldn’t if I’m behaving responsibly in a dinner with unfamiliar company.
Thus, I realize I need to show restraint.
But I also feel the need to do so only in moderation if I abide by the other two Rs.
After all, if I’m always respectful of the people who surround me and I act responsibly in moments that I must, haven’t I earned enough trust to be whoever I want, however I want, most of the time?