I. GROOMING, EXERCISE, AND DIET.
The appearance you present to other people is the one by which you will be judged. Even if you think such "judging" is not fair, the reality is that it happens every day as people assess one another to make relevant decisions for living their own lives. Whether or not you think itís fair has nothing to do with the fact that people do make judgments about you, just as you do about them. Since people tend to associate with people who have values like their own, your behavior will have to demonstrate the values held by the people with whom you would like to associate.
Basic to the impression you make then, first of all, will be the appearance of your body. It seems almost needless to mention cleanliness. However, I am surprised at the number of people who seem to have little concern for this issue that is so fundamental. Even the animal species beneath humans have ritual acts of cleansing their bodies. The act of bathing has a therapeutic effect on the bather, even if it were not an act of consideration for his fellow human beings. Therefore, for your own sake, as well as for the sake of others, a daily bath or shower is a must.
Exercise will do much more than make your body strong and healthy. It will keep you feeling fit and keep your spirits high. Vigorous exercise helps to give the body a good supply of oxygen, which is essential to mental as well as physical health. This is especially important if you have any tendency toward mental depression or the "blues." Build a time for exercise into your daily schedule even if you are busy. The exercise itself will give you enough energy to accomplish all your other tasks.
The size of your body in relation to your body-build and height will be more important to the impression you make on others than you might think. People who are too heavy are often deemed lazy and gluttonous. For the sake of your appearance then, as well as your health, it is important that you follow a sensible diet that keeps you at a normal body weight for your build and height. This will also help you to achieve your normal life span, since excess weight causes many health problems that are often life threatening. Learn then, all you can about good nutrition. It is fundamental to a healthy and pleasant existence.
II. FEEDING YOUR MIND
Just as it is important to feed your body nutritious food, it is equally important to see to it that your mind feeds on a healthy diet. What you put into your mind profoundly affects who you are and what you will become. Read the classics and especially, the Bible. Remember that the wisdom of the ages is contained therein. If it were not so, such books would no longer be around for their contents to benefit you. Take advantage of them. Wisdom is a great gift.
III. CHOOSING YOUR FRIENDS
Although I would advise you to be as kind to everyone as you possibly can, it is wise to choose with care those with whom you regularly associate. For those are the people who will influence you and help to shape your character. It is in revealing ourselves to each other that we are able to grow. Revealing yourself to others, however, always bears some risk. So, you will want to choose as friends those who have like values and in whom you have complete trust.
Your choice of friends should not be based on physical perfection, social standing, or affluence. Any of these can change overnight. When your friendship is based on these attributes, if any of them changes, you stand to lose a friend.
Nor should your choice of a friend be based on skin color. Neither you nor I nor any man had anything to do with whatever the color of his skin is, nor whether his hair is curly or straight, nor whether his eyes are hazel, blue, or brown. Lest you ever become proud that your skin is white, remember that the majority of the human race has colored skin; we, therefore, are the minority. It is good to remember the words of Thomas Jefferson who said, "all men are created equal." That does not mean that we all look the same, have the same social standing, or share the same amount of wealth. It does mean, though, that all men and women have the same value. Donít ever think that you are above anyone in any way. Whatever any one is capable of, you are capable of. That works for bad as well as good. So that means, we must always look to creating the best in ourselves, but must never look down upon any one who has not yet achieved that. The circumstances of life are different for each person. No one knows what one might have achieved or not, if the circumstances of his life had been different.
Approach everyone you meet as if he were bearing you a gift, because he probably is. Sometimes it is the least educated, the least well-mannered, and the least likely who teach us the greatest lessons.
Anytime you feel sorry for yourself or the circumstances of your own life, make for yourself a gratitude list. That is simply a list of all the good things in your life. Your list could certainly include: your health, a place to lay your head at night, enough food to sustain life, a mind with which to think, a body with which to maintain your spirit, etc. The list can go on and on and it will remind you of how fortunate you are through no efforts of your own.
Remember that you came into the world with absolutely nothing. Therefore, everything you have is a gift. When you realize how many good things are in your life not through your own doing, itís a good time to thank your God, Creator, First Cause, Higher Power, or whatever you choose to call the Spirit or Essence that is bigger than we are. This is a good thing for us mortals to do, because when we think there is nothing higher than we are, we tend to act God-like ourselves. It is when we remember that we are only one of his creatures (albeit a worthy one) like all our brothers, that we fit ourselves into our proper niche in the universe.
Once you find your own right place in the cosmos, you will give every human being his value and dignity and give to your Creator the thanks and praise that are His due. Then, you will have no trouble choosing the people you would like to have as friends.
IV. HELPING OTHERS, FORGETTING SELF
Because I have thus far concentrated on ways to take care of yourself, I hope you wonít conclude that that is the essence of my message. Because it certainly is not. I truly believe that the greatest joys in life come through giving and receiving love, and the greatest joy of all is giving of yourself to others.
My initial concentration is on taking care of yourself first, because without a strong, healthy, wise you, you will have nothing to give others. So first, build yourself into the strongest, healthiest, best-educated person you can be, and then you will have the great pleasure of serving others.
Do not fear, if you are not THE strongest, healthiest, best-educated on the block, then you must give what you have to give and your joy will be the same. My little dog, Cricket, has nothing to give but her beautiful, warm presence, and yet she brings untold pleasure to many by simply offering herself.
It does not take too much thinking to realize that after we get what we wanted yesterday, we will want something else tomorrow. And so it goes with the business of getting. It never brings lasting satisfaction. We are much like large pitchers that can never be filled. There always seems to be room for getting more. Once we realize this is true, we can learn to be satisfied with far less. Then comes the real joy. Pour from your own pitcher into the lives of others and your peace and contentment will know no end.
V. GOOD MANNERS
Good manners are nothing more than behaviors that are considerate of others. Although the manners of different cultures vary, the modes of expression always show concern for and appreciation of others.
It is smart to learn the behaviors that are considered appropriate in your culture, for you will thereby be comfortable and able to enjoy any social situation. Usually learning good manners is not too hard. Just remember not to do anything in the presence of others that might be offensive to them. It is easy to learn what those things might be.
If you stop to think what is offensive to you, it probably is offensive to others as well. So always think before you act. I believe the people who practice ĎThe Golden Ruleí have good manners.
VI. FOLLOWING THE RULES AND OBEYING THE LAW
The advice I am about to give you, I learned very early from my father. He taught me that rules and laws were made for many reasons: to keep me safe, to keep me healthy, to make it possible for many people to share the same space, to keep the world beautiful and safe for all of its inhabitants, to protect the sick and weak of all species, etc. Now both my father and I would agree, that not all rules and laws are good for each person. But for the common good of all of us, it is wise to obey the rules of the game and the law of the land. This is one piece of advice I was given as a child that I have never regretted taking.
Perhaps I should have put this first on the list, because it has always held a high priority in our family. As you know, Uncle Danton is now over 100. When I asked him what single piece of advice he would offer young people growing up today, his answer was, "Be honest!" Remember, this is 100 + years of living experience speaking, so donít take it lightly.
What does it mean to be honest? Do not lie, do not cheat, and do not steal. But I think it goes even further than that. It also means to give an honest dayís work for an honest dayís pay, to give every individual his just due, if you donít know or canít do something, say so, and if you find something that does not belong to you, make every effort to find its lawful owner and return it. This is probably the best advice I was ever given by my forebears. In 68 years, I have never regretted practicing it. The practice of this virtue contributes greatly to a good nightís sleep. Your head will lie lightly upon your pillow if you follow it.
VIII. SEX, ALCOHOL, AND OTHER DRUGS
Perhaps you will find it strange that I have linked sex and drugs together. I believe they belong together because there is such potential for misuse of both sex and drugs. Keep in mind that alcohol is a drug. Both drugs and sex have the potential for serious addiction.
Alcohol has been used for centuries because of its capacity to make one "feel good." A glass of wine at a celebration can serve as a social lubricant. With a little alcohol, if you are shy, you can readily become very talkative. If you are a little angry, the anger goes away, maybe. Alcohol really is a good sedative, an excellent tranquilizer. The problem is there is no way to control the dosage. The proper controlled amount depends on your size, your sex, how much you have had to eat at the time, your emotional make-up, your genetic ancestry and other scientific factors.
If you ingest enough alcohol, you can completely annihilate all of your inhibitions. That is when it becomes a danger to you and the rest of the human race. Thousands of people both here and abroad have been killed or seriously injured by drivers who drove vehicles while impaired by alcohol and/or other drugs. Many wives and children have all but starved to death because alcoholic husbands and fathers have decimated the family income buying alcohol. Many families have suffered horrific abuses at the hands of alcoholic fathers or mothers. Anything that has such a potential for abuse should not be taken lightly.
Not everyone is capable of limiting his intake of alcohol or other drugs. Some people become addicted to these substances very easily, almost with the first taste. Iím sure you know that people differ in their resistance to systemic poisons, such as poison ivy, a hornetís sting, or even in their ability to digest such a common food as sugar. There is a body of scientific evidence now that indicates alcoholism tends to run in families. There is a study published by the Schick Safety Razor Co., Culver City, California, that finds a particularly high incidence of alcoholism in certain races and peoples. For example, in North America, this inability to process the toxic by-products of alcohol is found most frequently among the American Indians and those of Irish, Scandinavian, French, English and German descent, in that order. Therefore it is wise to look at your own genetic back-ground to see just how vulnerable you might be.
Unfortunately, I happen to know there is a genetic predisposition for alcoholism on both sides of your families. This really gives you a double whammy. I am sharing this with you because I believe it is important information that you need to have to make intelligent decisions in this matter.
If there were a tendency in oneís family toward the dread disease of diabetes, one would be foolish indeed, not to try to ward it off by taking certain precautions in oneís eating habits. Most authorities are agreed that if there is a predisposition for alcoholism in your family background, the only precaution you can take against it is abstinence.
The disease of alcoholism can be compared to allergies, which are also rampant in your family background. Personally, I am allergic to aspirin. Most people can ingest aspirin with no untoward consequences, but it will send me to the nearest emergency room every time I take it. Fortunately, I learned that I was allergic to aspirin before I went into toxic shock and died from it. Now, all I have to do, is stay away from aspirin. I even wear a bracelet that tells the world I am allergic to it and to warn any health professional not to give it to me if I am unconscious and unable to speak. If I knew that I was "allergic" to alcohol, that my particular pancreas simply would not process it properly, I would stay away from that substance.
On top of the fact that one can be physically allergic and addicted to alcohol, there is also the possibility that one can become psychologically addicted to it, as well. When both probabilities are present, if one uses the substance, there is a downward spiral that eventually culminates in death. Make no mistake about that, the ultimate conclusion to untreated alcoholism is premature death.
What to do about sex is another important consideration. As a young man or woman embarking on the great adventure of life, you will have an abundance of unstable and raging hormones. They will, of course, instill in you a strong physical impulse or desire for physical union. Under certain circumstances, it is easy to just "go with the flow." But I submit to you, that it is far wiser to "look before you leap" and "think before you act."
Sex is built into our nature primarily to assure the continuance of the human race. It has other functions as well. The ritual act of sexual intercourse serves to bond a couple together. It is a most beautiful act when perpetrated by two married people who have come together in love and honor. This is a great advantage for family life. It was so ordained to provide a stable family environment in which parents can care for and nourish their offspring. Intercourse is called a ritual act because it is performed over and over again. It is in this repeated act of love, that the bonding occurs. The problem with premarital sexual intercourse is that it begins to bond people together who donít even know each other. They may have nothing more in common than an animal attraction to each other. Who wants to bond with someone with whom they have nothing in common?
When you are making such important decisions that will affect your entire life, it is good to consider who and what you are. You are a pearl of great price, one of infinite value. You are one of the only species in the universe to possess both body and soul. You have been given life, love, and sustenance by those who have come before you. Many sacrifices have been made on your behalf, a great price has been paid for you. You will be unable to make right judgments in these matters, however, unless you value yourself as the great treasure you really are. Know therefore, and honor your great worth and the high price that has been paid for you.
It is not impossible to refrain from the sex act before marriage. Difficult, maybe, but not impossible. The rewards for postponing sex until marriage are so great, it is well worth the effort. And just think, you will never have to worry about getting pregnant, or that you have impregnated someone, or getting a sexually transmitted disease, or even dying prematurely from AIDS.
From my own experience in all areas of my life, I have found that my greatest treasures and my greatest joys have come from my greatest sacrifices. This is the wisdom for which I have paid the highest tuition and that I value the most.
Think about the peacock. His beautiful feathers are made from the sharp thorns he eats. And so it is with us. Sometimes the harsh things we have to swallow contribute most to our beauty.
Returning now to the subject of drugs and alcohol. When you use any substance, it alters your thinking and destroys your built-in inhibitions. Even if you have decided not to engage in sexual activity, when inhibitions and resolve are gone, you are no longer in control of your natural urges. In my lifetime, almost every girl I know of who got pregnant before marriage, said it happened one night when she and/or the boy got drunk. Unfortunately, the numbers of pregnancies that begin that way are many and their life stories usually do not make pleasant reading. They frequently involve utter poverty, child abuse, spouse beating, and desperate acts of all kinds, including murder and suicide. Remember now, I am referring only to the people I know about. You need only check the statistics for this problem world-wide and you can see what a great human tragedy this is.
Isn't it a stupid thing for people to do? Throw away the one faculty we have that puts us highest in the animal kingdom? I sincerely hope that you will give this matter some serious consideration. Your decisions in these matters will affect you for the rest of your life.
IX. HOW TO SAY, "NO, THANK YOU."
There will be many times in your lifetime that you will need to say these three words. Most people are afraid that a negative reply will hurt a friendís feelings, or disappoint someone, or that it wonít be "cool". It is often difficult to say "No," even when we want to. For that reason, it is wise to prepare in advance to say, "No, thank you." So I will share with you some suggestions for doing so: 1. "Oh, sorry, it simply isnít convenient for me right now." 2. "No, thank you, I have to go." 3. "Sorry, I canít have any, Iím allergic to it." 4. "My doctor says I can not have that." Most people will not argue with your doctor or your allergy, but many will try to persuade you to do things you really donít want to do.
Iím sure you will be able to think of other things you might say in those circumstances. The important thing is to be prepared in advance so that you donít get "roped into" something you donít want to do.
Often people try to coerce us to do things they want us to do, whether it is good for us or not. They are simply following their agenda. Remember you have a right, as well as a moral obligation, to follow your own agenda and to take care of yourself.
Being prepared with your own words, by the way, is not lying. It is simply a tactful way of caring for yourself without hurting others. When you feel outnumbered and threatened by your peers, it takes great personal courage to risk ridicule. To be prepared in advance makes it easier to stand for what you believe is right.
IX. CHOOSING A MATE
This is the single most important decision you will make in your lifetime. It will profoundly affect who and what you and your children will become.
You will perhaps become attracted to more than one person in your lifetime, although when you are young, you tend to believe that there is a "one and only" for you. That is purely a romantic notion that is exciting to believe, but is not necessarily true.
Perhaps the best advice I have to offer in this regard, is to choose a partner that you respect, are attracted to, and would be proud to have as the parent of your children. (It certainly would not hurt to look for a partner with a good sense of humor, as well, one that does not take himself or circumstances too seriously.) A little humor tends to lighten the atmosphere when the demands of life together become challenging, which they sometimes do. Once you have made a choice in this matter, it is to the profound benefit of all concerned, to honor that commitment for a lifetime.
If at all possible, choose for yourself a pet to share your life and home with. My personal choice would probably always be a dog, especially a West Highland Terrier because I especially like that breed. But any pet, with characteristics you like, can enhance the quality of your life.
There is some scientific evidence now that shows having a pet has many health benefits for the owner. It tends to lower blood pressure, etc. I think we have always known that to love and be loved is the greatest experience in life. And pets seem to be especially adept at giving unconditional love, the kind we all need most. As a result of this unconditional love we receive from our pets, we learn to reciprocate love.
It is also good for people to be responsible for the care of some other living being who is dependent on us. It helps to show us our rightful place in the hierarchy of life. "To whom much is given, much is expected."
I would certainly be remiss if I did not talk to you about the power and beauty of music and all the other arts. I have spent my entire life writing, teaching, performing, and enjoying music. You come from musical people on both sides of your families. But even if that were not true, I would still wish you the joy of music.
After spending a lifetime in the company of fellow musicians, I am convinced that musicians are a special breed of the species. I am equally convinced that it was the study of music that made us unique. By unique, I simply mean that musicians seem to experience life more profoundly than non-musicians.
Since life is such a great adventure, I wish for you the greatest possible participation in it. I believe that learning to perform well on a musical instrument teaches you patience, provides you with discipline, gives you increased power of concentration, stimulates your creativity, and gives you joy beyond measure. It allows you to re-create a work of art with your human brothers and sisters in a unique way which fosters a very real communion among the group.
I believe, as Abe Lincoln did, that most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. I believe it is an attitude, a mindset, that you carry around with you and spread to others.
To be content with what you have contributes greatly to your happiness. This, too, is an attitude. You can simply make up your mind to be satisfied and content with what you have.
I donít mean by this that you should not strive to improve your circumstances, your education, and your surroundings to the best of your ability. But that striving can become an obsessive drive that causes torment and will never let you rest until you have more of everything.
So try to be grateful for all the good in your life and be content with your circumstances. An attitude of gratitude is an attitude worth developing.
Life is a little like a card game and we have to play with the cards we are dealt. You will probably remember that Forest Gumpís mother compared life to a box of chocolates -- "you never know what you are going to get." That, too, is true. The real challenge is to get the most you can out of the hand you have been given.
Perhaps this is a good time to remind you of the importance of a smile and a sense of humor. Both will stand you in good stead in most of your relationships. A broad smile will disarm a potential enemy and certainly warm the heart of a friend. If you look for the humor in any situation, you will usually find it and discover that your sense of humor keeps you from taking yourself and/or others too seriously.
XIII. FAITH AND PRAYER
My faith and prayer life have always been important to me so, of course, I wish for you the same blessing. It matters not how you worship, but that you worship. When you are young, you tend to feel all-powerful and invincible, but as you live your life, you become more and more aware of how little you are in control. If you have a strong faith, when the vicissitudes of life strike against you, your faith will give you strength and peace-of-mind. I strongly believe with Alfred Lord Tennyson that, "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of."
I donít mean to imply that all you have to do is ask the Lord for specific favors and they will be granted. Sometimes, the answer to a prayer is, "No." But remember that answer comes from the Supreme Ruler of the Universe and that is not you nor I. I know from personal experience, that meditation and prayer will give you the guidance you will need for lifeís journey.
The "faith of my fathers" which has been passed on to me has been a supreme blessing and I wish for you the peace that such faith can bring.
As I read over this document I have created for you, I can see a similarity between much of its content and the Ten Commandments. I now realize that I am saying to you, "Iím grateful that my parents taught me to obey the Ten Commandments. They have been a road map for me that has made my lifeís journey joy-filled and full of wonder. Life has not been easy, but having a road map has certainly made it easier."
These things that I have put down for you comprise my own philosophy of life. You, of course, will have to find your own. These are only recommendations from a grandmother who loves you from the bottom of her heart. But remember, when God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, he did not say they were mere Ďsuggestionsí. They were, indeed, commandments. They can be equated with "natural laws." The law of gravity works whether you believe it or not. You can say you do not believe in the law of gravity, but you will still be grievously wounded or die if you jump off a 60 foot cliff. So, too, with the moral law. Both kinds can be broken, but not without logical consequences.
I wish for you long life, good health, and much happiness. When, in the course of your life, you suffer pain or discomfort of any kind, remember this little story told to you by your grandmother. "Lauren, when you were only 3 years old, we went to the ocean, walked on the beach, and filled a bucket with sea shells, pebbles, and stones. You always ran back to me with much excitement and delight in your new-found treasures. My heart almost exploded with love as I watched you. When you found a nice smooth rock or shell, you were ecstatic as you ran your tiny fingers along its smooth contour."
Most rocks start out irregular, jagged, and rough. But the best ones, the smooth ones, have been tumbled by the sea and sand-papered smooth by the sand, as they are somersaulted about in the water. They come out clean, smooth, and wonderful. So it is with us mortals. In this life, we are sometimes somersaulted about, often in very rough waters. Then we need to remember that we are becoming good, well-rounded beings. The somersaults are nothing more than the hand of God sand-papering away our rough edges.
Iíll love you forever.
© 1995 Olga S. Hardman