Opinion | ‘Be Kind Whenever Possible. It Is Always Possible.’

To the Editor:

Before the pandemic, I would have cited two key teachings that defined my code of ethics. The first was a version of the Golden Rule, as formulated by the Jewish sage Hillel the Elder. Challenged by a non-Jew to teach him the entire Torah while he, the gentile, stood on one foot, Hillel replied: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That’s the whole Torah; the rest is commentary — now go and study it!”

The other core principle that has guided my life was voiced by the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

But during the pandemic, my tolerance of others has been sorely tested. As a physician, I was frankly appalled by the irresponsible behavior of many in the general public.

I found myself clinging to a teaching from the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius, repeating it to myself like a mantra: “There is but one thing of real value — to cultivate truth and justice, and to live without anger, in the midst of lying and unjust men.” And I cling to this still.

Ronald W. Pies
Lexington, Mass.

To the Editor:

As my mother, Ruth Michaelian, aged and dealt with health issues, she always responded to our “How are you?” with the response “It could be worse.” This was from a woman who was widowed in her early 40s with four children to raise, worked as a nurse full time to keep a roof over our heads, put us all through college and continued working until she was 87 because she wasn’t going to stay home. It was too boring.

It became our family’s philosophy. I’ve thought and said it often to people this past year. No matter how stressed we were, how difficult it was to find toilet paper, or how tired we were dealing with our new pandemic lives, I always heard my mother saying “it could be worse.” She was right. We can all think of someone whose life and circumstances are far worse than ours.

Susan Meeske
Old Tappan, N.J.

To the Editor:

My code: “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.”

This quote is attributed to John C. Maxwell, an internationally recognized leadership expert. This does not mean to have a laissez-faire attitude about everything. It’s not about being Mad magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman (“What, me worry?”). In fact, the operative word is “practically.”

Of course you should have aspirations, of course you should have dreams and wants, but the vast majority of “disappointments” in modern life are, well, unimportant. The code is really just another way of saying “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” and there’s plenty of “small stuff” in our daily lives. And Covid-19 has altered so much of our routines that the opportunity for disappointments is more abundant than ever.

Your baseball team doesn’t allow fans — unimportant. Someone disagrees with you on social media — unimportant. And on and on and on.

Realizing the unimportance of practically everything, and letting the small stuff roll off your shoulders, is totally liberating.

David Pastore
Mountainside, N.J.

To the Editor:

While driving me home from a sixth-grade event, my wonderful father, a charming and wise self-made man, pulled the car over to the side of the road and shut off the engine. He had been listening to me making fun of a classmate. He said to me that he never wanted to hear that kind of talk from me ever again, and that I needed to remember something important: I was not better than anyone. After a long pause so I could let that news sink in, he added, “But you also need to remember something else: No one is better than you.”

Both of those bits of advice have proved to be true, and have given me something to recall decades after he turned the car back on and took me home.

Norma Douglas
Sun Valley, Idaho

To the Editor:

What is my personal code?

Get off the sidelines. Get in the game. Rise! Cancer stole my 9-year-old son’s life, yet here I am, still, which is a very hard thing to be. Eventually, once I decided to survive, I faced the fact that at age 45 I had gifts and talents I wasn’t using, and I had time and resources to share. Then I heard Maya Angelou say that no matter what happens to knock you down, you must rise (“Still I Rise”).

I took “Rise” as a personal code, and I went on to get two master’s degrees, a job teaching English at the local high school and a license to foster children — which led to adopting three sisters aged 11, 9 and 6. Every single day, my determination to rise is challenged because teaching is unspeakably hard and parenting traumatized children, now teenagers, is also unspeakably hard. But I consciously chose this life. I am called to Rise. We all are.

Nancy Glaub
Mountain Brook, Ala.

To the Editor:

My daughter wrote the following to her 4-year-old son shortly before she died of cancer five years ago: “If you go to bed at night and you aren’t proud of the person you were that day, you’ve done something wrong. Always be kind. Always be generous. Always be loyal.”

I’ve tried so hard since then to live up to that, too. The pandemic and the contentious presidential election of the past year have brought many days when my determination to be kind was tested. I haven’t always succeeded. But my daughter’s wise instructions continue to prompt and guide me every single day. And I hope that she’s proud of me, too.

Susan Buling
Mentor, Ohio

To the Editor:

Imagine a young, Black, Southern teenage girl in middle school with thick glasses. This girl wants to do so well in school. She wishes she were popular. She desires to have more friends and be liked. She loves to read. She loves poetry. This girl was me.

I have one philosophy. In my teenage years and now in adulthood, I have believed that rejection motivates reach. Poetry would become my outlet in life. In high school, college and adulthood, rejection would follow me constantly. Still, it became my motivation to reach out to the hurting, helpless and those hungry for hope.

Rejection pushes poetry out of me. Poetry propels me to release my pain. Rejection motivates me to never give up. I think we all have felt rejection at some point in our lives. Let rejection be your motivation to reach.

Traci Neal
Columbia, S.C.

To the Editor:

H. Richard Niebuhr wrote an essay entitled “The Grace of Doing Nothing.” Aside from the context in which he wrote it, that phrase can be applied to my own life in many ways.

In personal relationships, I have found the wisdom in sometimes doing nothing. Maybe it’s a conflict that doesn’t turn out to be a conflict in need of fixing. When a teenage daughter would slam her bedroom door and lock it, my first inclination was to beg to come in so we could talk it out. But that just escalates emotions on both sides. Give it some time.

When things were said or done to me at work, I may take it personally — only to find there was nothing personal about it. It’s not healthy to be defensive all the time.

It’s incredible how well those interactions go by saying nothing.

Thomas P. Roberts
Hillsborough, N.C.

To the Editor:

My philosophy is to ensure that the world is a kinder, happier place with me than it would be without me. As is the case with oxygen masks on a plane, however, you must first take care of yourself before you can care for others. Find what makes you happy, do it, and do what you can to help others find their own happiness.

Alexander von Nordheim
Silver Spring, Md.

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