I recently had a significant birthday, one of those that as a young person I never imagined having. Of course like everyone else I always wanted to live a long life; I just didn’t know how it would feel along the way. It reminds me of the old saying “if I knew I was going to live so long I might have taken better care of myself”. As I am now finding, it’s never too late.
It’s always a good idea to have a health check-up and personal check-in around such an event. A doctor’s visit soon had me meeting with a physical therapist where I learned that some of my severe neck/body pain came from something as simple as how I hold myself. I learned I need to hold my neck and shoulders straight, which I find easier said than done. I remember and then I forget, remember and then forget again. It’s so easy to slump in front of the computer or TV, or lead with my head during those long walks that I intend to have more of. Over the years, lazy posture can become a bad habit that has long term consequences. So my doctor’s orders were simple and clear: “Stand up straight, eat better and move more”.
It occurs to me that this might be a metaphor for our community and country as well. Bad habits of indulgence over generations, a lazy posture of blaming others for our situation, and short term profit making as if time would never catch up with us have all contributed to the situation we find ourselves in today. And just like my personal health, there are no magic bullets to bring immediate relief.
So, what does “standing up straight, eating better and moving more” look like in today’s world?
For government at all levels, it means living within its resources – not promising the public a silver bullet that can give us greater benefits for less sacrifice and involvement. It took the wisdom and courage of our forefathers to create and protect the living democracy we have enjoyed through the years. It will take courage and hard work by all of us to sustain our democracy over time.
For civic and community-based organizations, it means inventing and re-inventing themselves, engaging young people’s imaginations, focusing on the things that build and sustain trust and motivate positive action. It means creating a world that rewards sacrifice for the common good; that measures our success not by how much we have, but how much we give. It means rewarding those who can show impact and quantify their outcomes.
For businesses and corporate groups, it means investing in their own communities to address a whole host of issues that government was held responsible for in the past. They must be prepared for the fact that it won’t be cheaper, easier or quicker for the private sector to do the job right. It means that business associations will need to use their influence to help create opportunity and wealth for everyone who is willing to work hard and try harder. A growing gap in incomes is never good for a working democracy.
For faith-based groups, it means balancing their role of professing their faith and serving the members with a prophetic voice of raising the moral issues of the day, never an easy balance to reach. In recent years the faith community has been the foundation for much of the work of feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and ministering to those who have lost their way. But the harder work lies ahead where difficult decisions will have to be made as government programs get cut and outreach budgets will clash with member benefits.
For schools and universities it means placing a much greater focus on managing and holding accountable their own work force, teaching citizenship and responsibility with the same commitment as science and the humanities. They must be about empowering young people and adults to become involved and committed citizens, building and sustaining the freedom that democracy guarantees. We must always remember that unless we educate our citizenry in the ways of democracy we could lose the freedom or ability to pursue our dreams.
We are all exhausted from the politics of conflict and big money, the win/lose mentality where everything gets promised but little gets delivered, where every decision is predicated on raising money to support re-election, instead of insuring a good quality of life over lifetimes and generations. We must focus on getting more people involved in our democracy instead of having a relatively few people paying for the one they want for themselves.
Dr. Vincent Harding, a respected author and civil rights leader has said our collective actions apply to our current national spiritual and moral crisis: "We are citizens of a country that we still have to create -- a just country, a compassionate country, a forgiving country, a multiracial, multi-religious country, a joyful country that cares about its children and about its elders, that cares about itself and about the world, that cares about what the earth needs as well as what individual people need."
It’s a simple process of remembering, forgetting, and recommitting again. It’s a practice that requires discipline and a strong commitment toward embracing change. Most of all it requires that we believe an investment today will pay off in the future. We must have faith in our future – enough to pay now even if we don’t see the changes coming as soon as we might like. Even if they don’t come in our lifetime, we must have faith that our actions now will make a difference in the lives of our children, their children and the generations to come.
If we believe in the future, we must take care of the precious things we love. We must take the long view when the short view is easier and less threating. We must work for others in a way that nurtures ourselves. We must keep learning and growing and be willing to try new things. We must trust our young people and embrace surprise as a practice. We must face our fears of failure and celebrate our successes.
We must do what we can with what we have in the time that is given, knowing that is all that is required of us. But we must act. In every season, we give thanks for our freedom to make things better by our personal efforts. But just like eating better, moving more, and standing up straight, it is an effort that must be sustained over a lifetime.