Being a good parent is not always easy, and more to the point being a good person is not always easy. But I do believe that a very simple rule of thumb can be followed and if done so with a strong intention to succeed, you likely will. Our children are in a way mirrors of ourselves and just like our bathroom mirrors we have to look them in the face every day and confront who and what we are.
Here it is, my bold wisdom that I share with my kids and that I try to apply to myself – “Don’t be a jerk.”
The truth is that it takes more energy and more effort to be a jerk than it does to be a good person. It is not always easy to do the right thing, but in the end I think that most of us are more inclined towards right than we are towards wrong. We are somehow, as humans connected by this mutual need for survival and mutual benefit – our world political leaders not withstanding.
I have just returned from a business trip to the Midwest – Chicago to be exact. I always find that the time spent alone and away from my family brings in to sharp focus what is important in life, and also allows me to examine the people in my life who act in direct opposition to my above mentioned rule. There, unfortunately a great many people who simply do not get the fact that being an asshole is not conducive to a well lived life, nor is being a mercenary for money or power. But you might be surprised by just how many people are willing to suppress a certain amount of “right” in order to achieve a goal in which money is a goal. Business, like politics can simply bring out the worst in people, but I just do not believe that it has to be that way. I don’t believe that “nice guys finish last”. I think in short, that is bullshit.
I once again draw a parallel between the rules we try to follow as adults and the way children act as common practice. We went to a party yesterday hosted by a family who has children in school with our kids. They are lovely people and they have a spectacular home on the water. They throw a mean party. They have a pool and an outdoor living space complete with fireplace, an outdoor bar complete with fridge and icemaker (oh and bartender!). They also had a water slide, the big blow up sort that three men deliver in a huge truck and take an hour to set up. There were about 30 kids there ranging in ages from 2 to 14. There was a lot of activity between the slide, the pool, the running, the falling, the tree house, the popcorn machine, etc. There was at any given moment a tremendous opportunity for arguments and disagreement. The line for the ice cream, the line for the slide, the rafts in the pool, or the line for the popcorn all resented a chance for one kid to butt in line, to push another child, to take someone’s place on the raft. It did not happen. Not once. Rather, there were kids helping each other up to the top of the slide, helping smaller kids reach their ice cream, pulling each other onto the raft. They worked together without prompting and none of them acted like jerks. It made more sense for them to help each other, the mutual benefit for all of them out weighing the singular benefit of any given one of them. If one kid needed help at the bottom of the slide getting off and out of the way, the other kids helped. Can you imagine the implications for Rush Hour traffic if adults employed the same mind set when letting cars change lanes and merge? Amazing outcome might be – less traffic backed up because people are not “being jerks”.
After all it does take more energy to keep your car at exactly the right speed as to discourage the guy next to you from moving ahead of you and taking your place at the next red light. Doesn’t it?
I have worked with so many people over the years who subscribed whole heartedly to the belief that being a jerk is required to succeed and that being nice will actually derail your express to success and the good life. These are dangerous people to deal with. They will screw you over as soon as look at you and they will look you directly in the face when they do screw you over. My question is, does this allow me to forego my commitment to myself and others to not be “a jerk” in an effort to keep the game even? I submit that it cannot be. It is part of being a good parent to teach by doing, and in order to do that sometimes you have to take it on the chin. Sometimes the jerks do win. That is a very hard lesson to teach your kids, and it is exactly why being a good parent is so hard – because in the end being a good person can feel darn near impossible if you let the jerks make you think that their way is easier. It isn’t.
Just ask their mirrors.