THE BLOG
12/28/2015 10:41 am ET Updated Dec 28, 2016

What Tree Are We Planting?

I heard this quote yesterday while watching a Barbra Streisand special on PBS...

"A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."

It is a Greek proverb. I know, it's a little unlikely that my source for Greek proverbs would be Barbra Streisand, but I take my inspiration from where it comes, and this one really blew my mind and got me thinking.

What is it that we are willing to plant? What are we willing to put our efforts towards, even knowing that we will not live to see the fruits of our labor?

I think this may be the ultimate question in life. What are we willing to do, even knowing we won't see the result?

For instance, I'm sure the writer of that proverb did not know that I would hear it and it would impact me. How could he?

But the truth is we impact each other and the world in ways we will never know, both in the here and now and in the future. A word, a smile, a door held, a though shared, one act of kindness -- it all changes the world forever.

We don't like to think of ourselves as having that kind of power, because to know that would mean that we are responsible for a lot more than we would like to be. Once you know that you can and do, in fact, change the world with every choice you make, you can't un-know that. Once you know that what you do and say really matters, then your choices cannot remain unconscious.

Many people look at the world such as it is at the moment and wring their hands in despair. I know. I've been one of them. The darkness seems daunting and insurmountable. But I assure you it is not.

So I repeat -- what are we willing to put our efforts towards, even knowing we will not live to see the fruits of our labor?

I can tell you the one thing we must be willing to let go of -- immediate gratification. We must stop having the childish expectation of cutting to the front of the line, of getting all of the benefits with none of the work involved.

We don't build genuine self-esteem without overcoming something. Challenges are not put in our path so that we can get discouraged and give up. We are meant to triumph, but that triumph comes at the cost of our own transformation. Our personal evolution isn't about becoming someone else or conforming to the false god of societal expectations. We are here to become more and more ourselves.

What is unique about each one of us is exactly what is needed in this world right now. The light that is contained within each of our souls is what will illuminate the darkness in the world.

Love -- that invisible, intangible, yet, the only thing that is eternal -- that love that created us, that love that sustains us, that love that goes on, even when we leave our physical bodies -- that is our ultimate essence and the infinite thread that binds us all to one another.

When I think about what is worthy of my efforts, what immediately comes to mind is not any physical accomplishment. I think kindness is worth my time. I think giving voice to people who need one is worth my effort. I think speaking on behalf of compassion and inclusion is worth my energy. I think opening the door to the discussion of what loving ourselves truly looks like is not only worth my effort, but it's the only way the world is going to change for the better.

What is most disturbing as we look at the violence, hatred, and intolerance of the world we live in today is that it is an outward reflection of our internal make up. And there is not one of us who is exempt from culpability, much as we like to console ourselves with the notion that we are above that. The truth is we are not above that, because it still exists. We will know we play no part in it when "peace on earth, good will to men" actually arrives.

What are you willing to do? What would you do, even knowing that you will not see the fruits of your labor? What matters to you that much?

"A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."

What tree are we planting?

Let's do it today.