Sunday, January 4, 2009

Part of the problem or part of the answer?

I was recently at a seminar in Orlando where I was privileged to hear Gary King speak about Truth. He said several interesting things; one was that morality, like money, compounds; his example was that if you take a calendar, and on the 1st of the month you put down one penny, on the 2nd two pennies, on the 3rd 4 pennies, on the 4th 8 pennies, you can see the amount grow; it grows very, very slowly at first. After 10 days you only have around $5. By day 15 you have $164. By day 20 it is $5,243. At this point, if you offered someone either $100,000 up front or the penny thing for 30 days, many would be tempted to take the $100,000, right? But at day 30 the pennies add up to over five million dollars. All the significant growth occurs in the last few periods.

So Gary King says that morality is the same way; if we all do the right thing in small ways today, then over time we can turn things around – reduce crime, correct the political problems and economic problems. His take is that the problems we find ourselves in today started in the 60’s and 70’s with small bits of corruption in the system. His example is that if you tell your secretary to tell a caller you are in a meeting (because you don’t want to talk to the caller at the moment), that this gives your secretary permission to lie; and now she knows you are a liar. And it snowballs from there. Rather than the compounding taking 30 days, though, he looks at it as taking 30-40 years, which is similar to real monetary compounding.

He went a little further, saying that if you walk by some trash on the sidewalk and ignore it, you are part of the problem. It is the duty of each and every one of us to do what we think is “the right thing” whenever we have the chance; we do not have the luxury of being lazy and ignoring the trash on the sidewalk if we desire excellence in ourselves and in our society.

So what exactly, is the “trash on the sidewalk?” For me it is something Steve Linder said at one of his events (badly paraphrased): We may not be required to help, or add value, in every instance where we can, but we have some responsibility for everything in our sphere of influence, be it someone we meet on the street or one of our children.

For me, this means that I will stop and talk with people I don’t know if I think I can do something for them; I expect nothing in return, just as when I pick up trash in the street where I happened to park, I expect nothing. When someone is doing some work, if I can, I will stop and help. I was trying to load a large live Christmas tree into the back of my car in the Home Depot parking lot a couple of years ago, and someone I had never met walked up and helped me. It was not an HD employee, just some random person. This is the sort of thing we all need to think about.

It has bothered me when I am busy doing something, usually cleaning or hauling or something like that, and there are others in my family who just sit and ignore what is going on. I think they are part of the problem. When I was growing up, if Mom or Dad were doing something, almost anything, that my brothers and I thought we could help with, we offered. No matter what we were doing, or what was going on. We are a team, and if one of us is working to accomplish something, then we all pitched in. To this day, my brothers are the same way. When we get together someplace (often upstate New York) and one of us decides to work on some project or other, the other two pretty much pitch in without needing to be asked. The need is obvious. To do nothing would be inappropriate, even rude.

In a previous life, I spent a couple years working as a whitewater river guide in Arizona, a little in the Grand Canyon, but mostly on the Green River, and on the Colorado above the Grand. One of my favorite characters was Bill, who was the head of operations on the Grand, and by far the most senior guide. On one occasion, there was some problem with one of the boats, something was ripped, I think. He was off trying to drag this 30-foot raft around to get at the back to fix this problem, and never asked for help. He simply expected that one of the other guides would come help him. We did – and we all wondered why he didn’t ask for help! I understand now, he didn’t ask because he simply expected that we would help when we saw what was happening.

What would happen if everyone thought this way? Taken another way, what would happen if no one thought this way? No one would ever help anyone else. People would become more disconnected. Society would be a hoard of nameless, faceless automatons… Wait, isn’t that almost what we have now?

What sorts of things would you want to attempt, in your life, if you had certainty that no matter what you tried, no matter how hard it was, that other people would pitch in to help you – and expect nothing in return, except that perhaps you would help them at some point in the future? What would life be like then?

So next time you see someone doing something, don’t ignore them or try to hide. Ask if you can help.

You can find more info from Gary King at


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