Tuesday, June 6, 2006

The Hyphen - What We Value

Did you see the recent survey (I don't remember who it was by, but MSNBC reported it) that most people would prefer to be POOR than gain a substantial amount of weight? We HATE the idea of being fat. (As one who can speak to this subject with some inside knowledge, it IS pretty crappy.) But choosing to be poor? Not have enough money to buy basic items rather than being judged by others because of the way I looked? (Maybe I'm reading stuff into the survey that isn't there.)

In another, unrelated survey conducted by the Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, and Harvard University, 76% of black men said being successful in a career is very important (compared with 56% of white men). 70% of black men said living a religious life is very important (compared with 44% of their white counterparts).

Having a sociology degree and having spent some time constructing surveys, I tend to be skeptical of numbers. A poorly asked question can render statistics relatively meaningless. (For instance, in the aforementioned survey, what is "a religious life"? Is it living based upon a set of principles? Is it belonging to a group that adheres to these principles? Is it living by your own set of principles? Does it involve principles at all?!)

Even better proof that poor surveying, or poor interpretation of the data, ends up telling us absolutely nothing, was the title of the article as it appeared in the Ann Arbor News, "Black men both optimistic, pessimistic about selves, nation". Talk about newsless and lacking information!

But all this surveying makes me wonder: If surveyed, what would my life say is important? How can a life be surveyed, you wonder?

It is actually relatively easy to tell.

Pull out your calendar, blackberry, daytimer, whatever. What do you spend your time doing? Watching tv? Working? Playing? Acts of service for others? Gaming? Listening to music?

What people matter to you? Do you spend those times by yourself? With others? Or simply thinking about others?

I recently heard retired professional baseball player, Cal Ripken Jr. speak about how important the 25 minute ride to school everyday has become for he and his child. He looks forward to that set time when they get to discuss the significant events in each other's life and share a little time carved out for just them.

Pull out your credit card receipts or your checkbook. How do you spend your money? Books? Vacations? Clothes? Giving to those less fortunate?

What do you spend your time and energy thinking about? What is the first thought you have each day when you wake up? What are the things that fill your mind when you have a little free time? The next meal? Finding that special someone? Seeing a movie? How you're going to conquer that cool new game? Planning a getaway from the rest of life? How to make life easier for your neighbor or someone who is alone and hurting?

Here's the thing. On any typical tombstone are four items:
1. The name of the deceased
2. The year they were born
3. The year they died
4. A hyphen in between #'s 2 & 3

You have no control over #2 or #3. You have a lot of control with what happens in between. The hyphen is yours! Carpe diem! Live today as if it were your last. Make the next five minutes count. Kiss your wife. Hug your kid. Write that poem. Compose that song. Bring a smile to the face of that friend who's hurting with a card or a phone call. Don't wait. Do it now.

Then after that five minutes is over, find a way to do it again.

May you construct the life you've always wanted by doing what matters most now. Shut off the computer. Close the book. And get on with what really counts.

Grace & peace.

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