When I was a little girl, no more than ten, my father used to talk to me about Life. He would tell me stories with lessons in them, or he would quote something and explain it to me. The one I remember best (perhaps because it was only a short time before he died) was a quote from Shakespeare which, as I learned later, he altered slightly to make it comprehensible to me:
“He who steals my purse, steals trash,” he said, “but he who steals my good name steals all I have.”
He explained to me what “a good name” meant, and how important it was that we live up to our highest ideal, because no one can take away the good reputation you earn. You should always do to other people the kindest things, because that’s how you would wish to be treated.
A couple of years later I was visiting my married sister. She gave me five dollars to go to the corner grocery store and get a few things. I kept my hand in my pocket the whole way (a short block and a half), touching the five dollars and the list. Just when I got to the store, I took the list out of my pocket to check it. One of the old ladies from the neighborhood, a rather dour and unkind woman, always sat outside the door of the store, watching. Never acknowledging anyone, just sitting and watching. No one else was around.
A few minutes later, after I had picked out what I needed, and then found that the money was no longer in my pocket, I ran out of the store in a panic. “Did you see five dollars in the street? I think I dropped it here.” The old woman stared right through me.
I ran back to my sister’s, and told her what had happened. Five dollars was not a trifle back then, and money was tight in her house. I was heartbroken as I explained to her what I thought had happened – I had dropped the money, and someone picked it up. I had been careless, and had paid for my carelessness.
So life taught me the other half of the lesson. Maybe it was the old woman, maybe the five dollars fell out of my pocket in the store. But someone picked it up and claimed it, and I was the loser.
Now, some people might say that the lesson is, if someone does it to you, you have the right to do it to someone else. But to me the lesson was firmly ingrained in me after that experience. I really understood the principle of doing to others only what you would wish for yourself. Daddy was right – live up to the ideals you set, and treat people the way you wish to be treated. The oldest rule in the books.
There have been many occasions in my life where I have found something of value, or been offered the opportunity to “cash in” at someone else’s expense. I return what I find, and turn down offers that make someone else the loser. Some might think I’m a chump, but I choose the lessons my father and Life have taught me. And I think I make the right choice every time.
I would really like to hear from you about the lessons you’ve learned in life, and how they have served you.