February 28 – Living by my beliefs

“If what you believe doesn’t affect how you live, then it isn’t very important.” (Dick Nogleberg)

Over the course of my life there have been three things that have had an effect on my beliefs, and on how I try to live my life: my religion, Scouting, and the Dale Carnegie Class in Human Relations. The interesting thing to me is how similar the effects of each have been on me.

I was born and raised a Catholic. For 20 years I worked with Catholic youth in a variety of roles from weekly Religious Education teacher to Youth Ministry to Confirmation Coordinator. Each of those roles required me to be keenly aware of what I believed, why I believed it, and why it made me live my life differently than I would have otherwise. There is no better way to learn to articulate what I believe, and to demonstrate it, than by having a few hundred teenage eyes watching what I am doing.

As a Scout leader, my groups were smaller, but the contact and the interactions were far greater. There I had to not only teach and preach the Scout Oath and Law, but also to demonstrate it on a weekly, or even daily basis to these young men. To me the biggest benefit of Scouting to young men and women isn’t in the attainment of ranks and badges, but in learning to live by a code of conduct, and having what you do be a reflection of that code of conduct.

Many think of the Dale Carnegie course as a public speaking course. A few might think about it as a class to learn to remember names. Few who have not taken the course understand that it is really about learning how to get along with people, and how to be a more effective and successful person as a result of that ability. Also, that it teaches that a person must be self-confident and enthusiastic to succeed. If I had been half-hearted in my belief of that way of living, I’d have been a miserable failure every time I went in front of a class of 30 to 40 skeptical adults.

It is interesting to me as I sit reflecting on these 3 influential parts of my life to see how similar they are. All 3 are built on the idea that we must learn to get along with each other. Whether learning through the 10 Commandments, the 12 points of the Scout Law, or the 30 Human Relations principles, each focuses on how we conduct ourselves. And, to be successful at leading any of them, I had to be a living example of how well they worked. When I had doubts or difficulties, my work in each of them suffered. When I was strong in the application of my convictions, I saw success.

The central question today’s quote raises is this whether I live my life differently as a result of my core beliefs. The harsh critic sitting on one shoulder reminds me that there is plenty of room for improvement. I can always be kinder, gentler, more helpful, less critical, more thrifty, more encouraging and on and on. That fella never thinks I have been quite good enough in my efforts, and I need him around to keep me honest.

The loud cheerleader on my other shoulder reminds me of all the good things I do. How I do stop what I am doing whenever someone asks for help, offer comforting words to those who suffer, reach out my hand to help those in need. He reminds me how very often I do reserve judgment on people, and look for the good before the bad. I need him around too, to make sure that I don’t listen to the other guy too much.

The truth, of course is that both are right, and both are wrong. Part of the beauty of being human is that I am always in a struggle to improve and be a better person. I make mistakes along the way, sometimes big ones. But, because I have the moral codes of those 3 important movements etched into my being, I always have a place to fall back, and get my ship right again.

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