Thursday, December 30, 2010

A New Year

Every year people all over the world set out to make some kind of new year's resolution, whether it's to get healthier, be nicer, work harder, save more $$, the usual aim is to improve oneself in some way, and thereby make the world a better place.  Or at least that is what is hoped. Buddha said that if you save yourself, you save the world, and a New Years resolution is perhaps a great place to start saving oneself in the hopes of saving the world.  However, how does one start saving oneself? 

Making the world a better place for everyone is possibly one of the noblest ideals an ordinary human being can have.  Many have taken that path and found its personal rewards fulfilling, though the physical rewards may be left wanting if one thinks of people like Mohandas Gandhi, Anwar El Sadat, Yitzak Rabin, Dr Martin Luther King, two Kennedies and so many other men and women who have gone down at the hands of ungrateful slobs.  Making the world a better place comes with very special rewards and very special responsibilities as these aforementioned men have shown.  Difficult choices and strength of personality led them to do the right thing for their people, but also drew the ire and fire from those with baser ideals.  No good deed goes unpunished in world where people are encouraged to think first of themselves and last of everyone else. 

But wait, you may ask, isn't that what Buddha encouraged? Thinking of oneself first? Saving your own self and then the world?  At first glance it may appear that way, but his admonishment was to people who were so determined to save the world that they had forgotten to help themselves become whole people first.  How can a man or woman work to save the world when they are broken inside themselves? There's a line from the New Testament where Jesus is alleged to have said "Remove the beam from thine own eye first."

Indeed, those words have double meanings.
First:If you have something in your eye, you cannot see clearly.
Second: How can you point to others' problems when you need help yourself?

As the New Year is about to dawn I am consumed with the desire to make this world a better place, but I am also consumed with the worry that the multiple beams in my eyes will cloud my vision and make me blunder blindly.  My only hope is to look inside and see myself clearly, accept that I have human faults, determine to work at them, smooth their rough edges and perhaps make use of them in some creative way. But also I must accept that I have positive gifts and use them to improve myself and thereby make the world a better place one person at a time. I can also take some lessons from my two namesakes, my grandfather and grandmother.

My father, Menelaos, told me a story many years ago about how my Greek grandfather married my grandmother. My grandmother, Elli, was the daughter of the Greek king's court composer who had lost his money betting at the track and then died leaving his family destitute. My grandfather, Paul, was the foreman at a paper mill where my grandmother, only 18 years old, worked at.  They met and fell in love and when Paul told the owner of the mill that he was going to marry Elli, the owner was very upset because he'd hoped that his daughter would be Paul's bride. Paul was a handsome, smart and powerful man that any father would be proud to have as a son in law.  The mill owner howled, "But she is a sack of poverty! Why would you marry her? She has nothing to offer you for a dowry."
My grandfather calmly and wisely said back, "Then I will take her sack of poverty and my sack of poverty and make them one, and there will be one less sack of poverty in the world."

And with that the world became a better place.

Happy and Peaceful New Year to all.
Pauline Elli