More Than Just Your P’s and Q’s

“Mind your thoughts for they become your words; mind your words for they become your actions; mind your actions for they become your habits; mind your habits for they become your character; mind your character for it becomes your destiny.”

This quote, a variation of one first attributed to English writer Charles Reade, has been rolling around in my head for the past few weeks.  Among the odd assortment of professions I currently hold, is that of American History teacher, and I’ve been teaching the Civil War and Reconstruction.  Each year, something new tends to jump out at me as I weed through the information.  This year, I’ve been struck by the numerous accounts that I’ve come across from white people who were terrified that the newly freed blacks would seek revenge, and treat the whites the way they had been treated.  The whites seemed to know what they were doing in the antebellum era was wrong in every sense, even though they justified it with social, religious, and evolutionary pseudo-argumentation.  They had no regrets about their behaviors or their attitudes, yet feared retribution for those actions.  If they had done nothing wrong, why did they have such fear?  It seems as though their thoughts, words, actions, habits and character had become so far from “good” and “decent” that they had lost all perspective of what actually is “good” and “decent.”

In another sense it reminds me of a situation that a friend of mine recounted to me.  He is a tour guide that works in several European countries, and he was leading a group of American students from Oklahoma through Austria.  They stopped to visit St. Michael’s Church in Mondsee.  Aside from the fact that it is absolutely gorgeous, it’s also the church in which Maria and Mr. Von Trapp get married in the film “The Sound of Music.”  It’ll leave you gob smacked.  It was a hot Austrian summer day, and several of the students, quickly walked through the church, then decided to “lay out” and sun themselves on the front steps.  They pulled their shirts up to expose their chests and bikini tops, as the locals and other tourists looked on, aghast.

When my friend found them, he ordered them to get up, and gave them a thorough tongue-lashing.  To his utter amazement the students didn’t understand what they had done wrong.  As he tried to explain, the students argued that it was a Catholic Church, and that they didn’t consider Catholicism to be a real religion, and so they believed it was fine to use the building as though it were the Lido Deck on the Pacific Princess.  The kids’ thought processes were so askew that they couldn’t comprehend the depths of their disrespectful behavior and actions.  It didn’t matter what they thought about the religion or the church.  They were being disrespectful to those who believed.  The irony is that these students would have been the most respectful of young adults in another person’s home, but since it was a church that was different from theirs, they saw no reason to mind their behaviors.

This summer I was in Africa and spent a few days at Victoria Falls.  As I stood on the edge of the canyon looking at the wall of water falling down the other side, an elderly man standing next to me, looked over, and with a very thick German accent, asked if I was American.  I smiled and I told him that I was, and we began to talk.  He began to tell me about his life.  As a young man, only a few years after the end of World War II, he joined the German navy, and was stationed in the United States for a few months at a base in California. He traveled up and down the coast, and went to Las Vegas, saw the Grand Canyon, and was even able to travel to Florida.  He talked of the people he met.  The kindness of strangers, and that only five years after a horrible war with his country, the American people welcomed him with a smile, and even the occasional hug.  Being so far from home, he appreciated each kindness bestowed unto him.  His eyes began to tear up as he recounted this, and was firm in his stance that Americans were “a great people, with a character that gives [him] hope.” He continued, by pointing out that our leadership often doesn’t do it’s best to reflect who we are as nation.  It struck me that often Americans’ actions don’t reflect our character, our thoughts, and our habits on an interpersonal level and sometimes, even on a national scale.

It’s interesting to think about.  Maybe we set goals for ourselves that we know we can’t reach, and maybe the challenge of trying is what drives the human condition.  Maybe we like to fool ourselves into believing our selfish thoughts, actions, habits, and character are exactly what they should be.  Maybe we just don’t think much about any of this at all.  It’s easier not too.  Are we putting our best foot forward to try to improve ourselves and those around us?  The “Golden Rule” seems even more applicable when considering all of these questions.  Is it okay to be disrespectful at a place of worship of another when you would be insulted if they behaved that way at your church?  Is it okay to belittle someone for his or her race? Gender? Sexual orientation? You certainly wouldn’t want any of those thrust upon you.  If your thoughts do eventually define your character and your destiny, then perhaps you (and me, and him, and her, and everyone around us) should do a better job of thinking about each other, and our own place in the world.

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Categories: My View of Things, Stories, Thoughts


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