Instead of our normal 2 Paragraphs, this week I am forwarding to you a copy of a column I published on Thursday, June 4, 2015 in Costa Mesa’s Daily Pilot. Hope you like it, and if you do, please forward to your e world.
There is a great musical by Steven Sondheim entitled “Into the Woods.” If you haven’t seen it, I hope you do soon. This wonderful work combines several fairy stories like “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Jack in the Beanstalk,” and “Cinderella,” and sets them up so that the characters have to go into the woods to resolve their problems so that they can “live happily ever after.” And that is what happens in the first act. But in the second act, the theme becomes “be careful what you wish for,” because unanticipated things can go wrong. For example, in the best line of the play, when Cinderella confronts Prince Charming for being unfaithful to her, he responds “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”
But one of the last songs in the show is “Children Will Listen,” and there is a universal lesson in it. So the old “Do as I say, not as I do” is shown not to work, because children will listen and children will be guided by what you actually do. In other words, as parents, attorneys, judges or anyone else, integrity is our strongest asset. That means that if we cheat on our income taxes, accept being paid too much change at the market checkout counter, or tell falsehoods to our friends about social obligations, it is likely that this is the way our children will learn to behave.
The great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said that character is how we act when no one else is watching. Of course, we ourselves will know, and probably so will our children as well. So how can we make ourselves and our world better? We can do our human best to act with integrity. In addition, we should eschew mediocrity, and instead always pursue excellence in ourselves, as well as in our children, students, colleagues and employees.
And it also means that each one of us should strive as often as reasonably possible to “make the system work.” For example, if we see a government official or anyone else wrongly treating people who cannot speak up for themselves, we should do it for them. Why? Because when it comes down to it, in a democracy, it is our government and our way of life, and if it isn’t working we have no one to blame but ourselves.
But let me also make two further recommendations before you go out to change the world. The first is to be selective in the battles you choose to wage. For example, if you go around the table with great fanfare at a friend’s dinner party and move the desert fork from the right side to the left so that it comports with the dictates of Emily Post, you will probably find that you are not invited back to dinner parties very often. And second, be governed by the motto of Davey Crockett that was set forth in Walt Disney’s 1950s fantasized story about his life, which supposedly was “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.”
Back in 1992 when I took a public stand against our nation’s failed and hopeless policy of Drug Prohibition, I was sure I was right, so I went forward. But before you have your “Braveheart” moment, whether it be in favor of the ability of parents to choose where and how the government money is to be spent for the education of their children, or whether our healthcare system should be run by us or by the equivalent of the local department of motor vehicles, or whether actively to support programs of performing arts in your children’s school, I recommend you keep those two recommendations in mind.
Each one of us has it within ourselves, in our own way, to be a leader by eschewing mediocrity and pursuing excellence, and by making the system to work. And – each time – it matters! Why? Because children will listen; children will see; and children will be inspired. And so will most other people throughout our communities – and our nation.
James P. Gray is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, a private mediator and arbitrator with ADR Services, Inc., the author of “Wearing the Robe: the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts” (Square One Press, 2009), and the 2012 Libertarian candidate for Vice President, along with Governor Gary Johnson as the candidate for President.
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