The Complete List of Secrets for Men and Women to Better Sex, Happiness and World Peace

secret

1. Leave people better than you found them. That’s it.

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I was talking with my son last night about physics which, in the interest of full disclosure, I should admit is far from a common topic for us. Anyway, the notion of a Grand Unified Theory came up, which I believe is the physicists’ Holy Grail: one theory that would explain everything about the Universe, including the popularity of Nickelback. It’s a fascinating thought, but in the grand scheme of things would it make much of a difference to our daily lives? Probably not. The Sun would still rise, gravity would still insist that I trip in public a few times per week, and someone would still believe that the Earth is only 7,000 years old.

But the conversation got me thinking about a grand unified theory that would make a tremendous difference to our daily lives, and thus my comprehensive list of one item was born: Leave people better than you found them. It’s not an original idea, but neither is the plot of the latest Paranormal Activity and it’s doing pretty well.

Buddhism captures this idea. The Dalai Lama says: “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” Sound advice for leaving people better than you found them.

The Golden Rule gets us part of the way there, too. For those of you who slept through Sunday school, this maxim (which actually predates Christianity by a couple thousand years) states that we should treat others the way that we want to be treated. Hard to argue with that, provided you’re not dealing with a masochist.

The overwhelming majority of us naturally apply the concept to our children. They are delivered to as wiggling, screaming goo factories, after all, so leaving them better than we found them isn’t difficult, at least at first. It takes a long time to raise a kid, though. A lot of life happens between the delivery room and high school commencement. As a parent keeping that focus for 18 years is virtually impossible. We all slip, but most of us try because we truly want our children to leave our homes better than we found them.

We enter enter relationships promising to love and nurture each other, and that works out pretty well until the relationship is on its deathbed.

With romantic relationships we aren’t quite as careful. We enter them with an implicit contract that we will love and nurture each other, and that works out pretty well until the relationship is on its deathbed for whatever reason. Too often the bitterness and anger are unleashed, the spite and the cruelty. It’s unfortunate because love and compassion are so critical on the way out the door.  That’s when that person who was promised love and nurturing most needs kindness; when he or she most needs to be left better than they were found.

Henry Ford brought a rudimentary form of “leave people better than you found them” to industrial America by paying his workers enough to afford the products that they were manufacturing. The cynics among us may point out that this wasn’t an act of generosity but rather simple math: Ford realized that his employees were also his customers. That’s true, but it also makes a very profound point: leaving people better than you found them is good business.

I’ve been walking around with this for a week, and I can’t come up with a scenario where leaving someone better off wouldn’t be a good thing. That’s not to say that my complete list of one thing isn’t without its problems, however, the biggest of which is that “better” is a quality. Unlike quantity, quality is susceptible to opinion and interpretation. Six is always six, but whether six is good or bad, well, who’s to say? It depends.

And so we have parents who smack their kids to prepare them for life’s hard knocks and we have parents who throw parties for participant trophies. Is one right and the other wrong? I have my own strong opinion, but you may not share it. The same holds true for most of our public discourse. I strongly believe that the majority of people who find themselves arguing passionately on either side of a topic like health care, for example, sincerely think they’re fighting to leave their fellow citizens better than they found them.

That’s not a very hopeful statement, is it? If “better” means different things to different people and that’s both inevitable and okay, then what’s the point?

The point is to try; to stop, think, and ask ourselves “will this leave that person (or those people) better than I found them?” Ask yourself honestly and answer sincerely, and if the answer is “yes” then you’re on your way to better sex, happiness, and world peace. You might not get there but at least you tried, and to paraphrase the Dalai Lama, at least you didn’t hurt anybody.

 

modified photo Marley Cook / Flickr Creative Commons

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About James Stafford

James Stafford is an executive editor for The Good Men Project.  You can follow him at www.jamesostafford.com or on Twitter: @jamesostafford.

Comments

  1. JJ Vincent says:

    This is a tough one. I was raised by a mother who honestly thought that the way to get the best out of people was to insult them, belittle them, demean them, because they would do/behave better (get higher grades, perform better in activities, try harder to move-this to my disabled father) to keep that from happening. In her eyes, pointing out and emphasizing flaws bettered a person. Praise didn’t. She said this, point blank, in a conversation a few years ago while apologizing for this. She said that then, she didn’t know any differently.

    So what happens when a person believes that they are leaving someone better by trying to “pray away the gay”, or earnestly warn them about “those people”, or tell them that they will feel better if they “take this”, especially if it was done to them and they feel like they are “just fine”?

    A lot of harm is done in an attempt to leave people better than they were found. Not at all saying we should not do it, but how to we handle the people who cause hurt in their attempts to “do right”?

    • James Stafford says:

      You’re right: That “better” is subjective is a fatal flaw with my grand unified theory of people good-itude, just like the masochist is the exception to the Golden Rule.

      My initial thought is to turn the equation around: What can you do to leave your mother better than you found her?

      • JJ Vincent says:

        James: Good question. I listen to her, talk her through her bad spells, don’t put down her interests, and when there’s something going on that needs correcting, suggest rather than order, or try something new with her together. I’m just grateful that through her faith, she realized how that kind of behavior damages people.

        People around me who I know dislike me for this or that reason or would like to “fix” me, eh, being nice is good enough for me. Harder, I think, to hate someone who is kind to you.

      • Corn Walker says:

        That’s because the Golden Rule needs a tweak: Treat others as they would like to be treated. The masochist can not then treat me like a masochist unless that is my desire.

        • James Stafford says:

          Well said, Corn.

        • Theorema Egregium says:

          We can also refer to the famous version of the golden rule by enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant, called the categorical imperative: Only act in a way you can wish were a general law.

          Runs into the exact same problem. A friend of mine used to quip: Dies that mean then that I can only have sex with my girlfriend if I wished that everybody else would have sex with my girlfriend as well? :-D

  2. “Is it good?” or “Is it bad?” is not the right question.
    The question should be “What are the consequences?”

    Besides that, this article was a good surprise and I like the message :)

  3. You never know what is good or bad. Maybe good in a short term, but bad in the long term, and you can turn it around.
    When i meditate and chant for to act in the most positive way, i act from my highest purpose, my buddha state of mind. I do not know what it is, but it tend to make good benifits from all parts ;)
    I practise the buddhist strategy of the Lotus Sutra.
    When i make people happy, i become happy, and i try my best to act from a state of nonjudgemental and selfish, egocentric state of mind. Not to harvest recognition, but because im grateful.
    Makes sense ??

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