Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Three R's, Revised

When my daughter was 6 (she's a very grown-up 11 now) she came to me one day, huffing with indignation. She had discovered that only one of the fabled Three R's starts with R, and she wanted to know what kind of idiot was teaching this sort of thing to children. I had a good laugh then spent some time explaining my own version of the Three R's to her, a set of three concepts I had put together for my earth-centered spirituality students a few years earlier. For some time now I've been meaning to blog about my take on this time-honored set. Well, I'm finally getting around to it.

First of all, unlike the traditional Reading, 'Riting and 'Rithmetic, my Three R's aren't skills so much as values, ways to approach life. And yes, they all actually begin with R. My choices? Respect, Responsibility and Return.

Respect. That's a tough one for many people, because it starts with respecting yourself, and that's hard when everything from TV advertising to religious dogma tells you that you're inadequate, insufficient, broken. It took me a lot of years of soul-searching and emotional work to reach the point where I truly respected myself. The funny thing is, once I saw myself that way, I found it much easier to turn that respect outwards, to respect other people, their beliefs and opinions, their differences. I don't have to agree with them, but I feel I must go beyond simply tolerating others and honestly respect their ways and attitudes.

Respect also extends to the environment, the biosphere of which each of us is a living, breathing part. Sure, recycling is fashionable, but beyond that, we must see ourselves as integral components of the system. The Golden Rule applies here; if you were that forest, that lake, that mountain, would you want those things done to you? Respect, that's all.

Responsibility. We hear this word a lot in the media, mostly misused as a synonym for 'blame' or 'fault.' But that's not what it really means. It means that you do what you need to do, you own up to what you've done, and you think and act like a grown-up. Responsibility involves paying attention to the effects of your actions, preferably by considering the possible consequences BEFORE you do anything. I tend to think that the world would be a much different place if people focused on personal responsibility for their actions rather than hoping they can get away with whatever they're trying to get away with for just a little longer.

Responsibility also points toward that famous quotation about our actions affecting the next seven generations. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Everything you do changes the world, for better or for worse. Responsibility means doing your best, always. Granted, your best will vary from day to day, even from moment to moment, but if you always do your best, then you'll have no regrets.

Return. That's the one that always got me the quizzical looks from my students. Return is easy: What goes around, comes around. You get back what you put out there. No, I'm not talking about the twisted, punishment-and-reward misunderstanding of the Hindu concept of karma. I mean simply this: Everything you do generates an atmosphere around you, an energy if you will, that creates the 'vibe' of your world. (I know, I'm a child of the 70's; I can't help it. I say 'far out' and 'groovy,' too.) You will draw toward yourself the same sorts of stuff you exude. Misery loves company, remember?

'Return' doesn't mean you have to be a cheerful Pollyanna all the time. But it does mean that you should be mindful of the overall focus and direction of your life, and how that focus and direction drive your values and energy, and attract or repel people and opportunities. Use the first two R's - Respect and Responsibility - to help you judge what kind of Return your life will have.

As I discovered when I first introduced these Three R's, they can become the subject of hours and hours of discussion, even debate (but hopefully not argument). I think that means they have some meat to them, some meaning. I hope you find some value in them, and take the time to contemplate what they mean to you.