“…bring to Life Those Ideals.” The remarkable thinker, historian, and activist Howard Zinn was referring you ought to “live your values” with that quote. It is a kind of integrity, I think, to not only know what you value, but to try to make your values real and manifest them in your life. It’s not always easy, though. “The hours” have a way of sapping energy and reducing focus. Yet Zinn lived into his 80s and was active and influential until near the end. Read on to find some inspirational quotes set in the context of living a life of value.
“I’m especially curious about how we can make a culture shift in our collective set of beliefs, values, and behaviors. Right now, our society is steeped in a culture of violence. What will it take to make peace the way we live instead?” Louise Diamond is a diplomat and global peace-builder with an eye on how change is possible. Most of us agree that we need some significant change – dare I say revolution – in the world. Perhaps we need what Anita Roddick, the social activist and socially-responsible business advocate, called “a revolution in kindness.” The effort to expound Gandhi’s statement, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” seeks to add wind to the sails of our hearts and minds, to carry us through the troubled waters of this country, and of course, the whole world. “A ship in harbor is safe. But that’s not what ships are built for,” said John Shedd.
Dorothy Day, the disciplined champion of pacifism, asked years ago: “The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us.” Very similarly, Anita Roddick has this to say about the issue at hand: “Not all revolutionaries set out to change the world; they set out to change their worlds. And in so doing, they often change the way one person, or a few people, or whole communities, or entire nations, or the world thinks and operates in some significant way.”
Gene Roddenberry, the visionary creator of Star Trek, once commented through his characteristically hopeful smile: “the human condition is to improve, to improve.” Combining these great spirits’ ideas, we are left with an amalgam along the lines of: A revolution has to start with each one of us, and if we improve our own personal world, the rest of the world will follow. That should help you live your values – I know it does me.
John A. Marshall, who has a wonderful ability to think when he has the optimal level of anxiety mixed with his strong mind, says this: “What you do counts…not what you would like to do, could do, or will do.” What John is pointing out is the fact that one may have great ideas and lofty ideals, but if all one does is think about them, then he or she is really no more than an “armchair philosopher.” What you do counts…. I do believe that even mental shifts, moved about by sustained thinking, and the fusion of passion with intellect, qualify as doing something. Sure, it is optimal if I go ahead and write that check to that charity, or volunteer at the school bake sale, or vote; but even just to relate to others who are on the other end of the couch is a step in the right direction. I am reminded of that common aphorism, probably American in origin: “You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.” Ex: Simply deciding to purchase food that does not result in the maltreatment of animals is being part of the solution.
We each have work to do. If you want to live your values, you can’t be a spectator or a jellyfish. The world, as Gandhi was painfully aware of nearly a century ago, is not okay. And most of us fall far shy of our potential. It’s an abysmally frightening place to most of us at some time or another. Even if one is living in the lap of luxury, I would urge you to diminish some of that complacency and have more empathy for the suffering of others. On a large-scale, Alan Paton, who wrote the acclaimed novel Cry, the Beloved Country, cautions, “To give up the task of reforming society is to give up one’s responsibility as a man.” On the smaller scale, Gandhi wondered, “Why not learn by getting down to the actual practice?” What we need to learn is how to make movement within ourselves, and in between us and others.
“Some people never have anything except ideals” noted the writer E. W. Howe. Clearly to have ideals that are those of wise persons is a step beyond some individuals, who never think much about their own ideals. However, one needs to go beyond that to give life to those ideals. Most folks who don’t think too much about the homeless, the diseased, the abused, or the suffering would also not imagine that this is an indictment of their character, but perhaps on their deathbed they will realize it. What can each of us do to keep that flame of passion inside us, the one that urges us up out of bed when our child is coughing in her sleep in the room down the hall? “It is not enough to be compassionate. You must act,” as the Dalai Lama warned. “No one knows what he can do until he tries” said the Syrian thinker Syrus. Though Rome fell, America still has a chance. A chance at change.
Here are two outside-the-box thinkers writing about the spiritual element that can energize us to act – to live your values. Peter Russell writes the following: “A deep, inner, spiritual change is what has to happen. What is being called for at this time is to begin to live what all the great teachers have been telling us.” Indeed, Karl Marx notes that “The philosophers have interpreted the world; the point, however, is to change it.” We didn’t change the world in a Marxist fashion, at least not yet, but he certainly did have some interesting theories. Ones that Albert Einstein and I believe have not been fully expounded yet. “As Buddha might tell you we’ve got to keep changing. Even the deepest pool stagnates without action.” That was Franz Metcalf of the book What Would Buddha Do?
How to get from here to there is a vexing opportunity for folks like me and others who are not satisfied with the world. Love has been touted by countless poets, writers, religious leaders, and activists. Here is Betsy Taylor, the founder of the Center for the New American Dream, on how to get there:
“Try trusting that love is in our genetic code, that we are meant for it, and that it is our ultimate source of wisdom. …And perhaps this reconnection to what matters – through nature, human relationships, and the sacred dimension in life—will be the true source of power that takes us from here to there.”
Howard Zinn, mentioned so many times because of his fusion of intellect and conscience, paints a beautiful picture of how we make our ideals more than ideals – to live your values. He wrote: “To me, what is often disdained as romantic idealism, as wishful thinking, is justified if it prompts action to fulfill those wishes, to bring life to those ideals.” One of the criticisms that some people make is that the ideas expounded herein are nothing but “romantic idealism” and could not function in the real world. I think we need to critically examine the function of such cynicism, for often it will turn out to be a pathetic defense of the status quo by those who rest comfortably or fear change. It is true that certain plans are too far-fetched, unrealistic, and impractical to be successful. However, so many worthy ideas are unrealized because of the reasons I just offered. Each of us Americans has great power that we usually do not realize. We are more than just being objects for advertisers to advertise to, or for politicians to forget about. It takes energy to ignore the onslaught of manipulation by the media, or to stay on top of political issues and urge our representatives to act wisely. Finally, I will let the American icon Davy Crockett tell you how to combine wisdom and courage in service of being the change we wish to see in the world: “Make sure you’re right, then go ahead.”
Here is a podcast of an interview you might be interested in.
Here you will find Howard Zinn quotes, quotes on how you can live your values, and other inspirational ideas. Keywords you might want to punch in include integrity, inspiration, fulfillment, dedication, aspiration, self-confidence, or mindfulness.
Values.com is a fascinating website, and this is their page on inspiration.