Today people around the world are remembering John Wooden, the phenomenally successful UCLA basketball coach who died last night, and mourning his loss. Facebook users are posting Wooden quotes, inspirational messages about how to live a good life. The quotes mean so much because Coach Wooden followed them himself; he led by example. I, like many others, am inspired to examine my own life to see how I can be more honorable and more of value to those around me.
John Wooden was never hip or cool and didn't aspire to be. He embodied the solid Midwestern values of his upbringing. He lived by a seven-point creed his father gave him when he graduated from grammar school. It included such simple instructions as "be true to yourself," "help others," and "make friendship a fine art."
The building blocks of Coach Wooden's well-known Pyramid of Success are not magical or clever; they're time-honored traits that include industriousness, enthusiasm, skill and poise. Unlike some preening coaches, John Wooden never wanted to attract attention. He hated being called the Wizard of Westwood. "I think of a wizard as being some sort of magician or something," he said. " . . . I don't want to be thought of that way."
This unpretentious man from Indiana never earned a big salary. He lived in a modest condominium and slept in a small bed beside a picture of his deceased wife of 53 years, the love of his life since high school. He said Mother Teresa and Nobel Prize winners were the famous ones, not him. "I was a person who was a teacher who happened to be in the public eye," he said.
Coach Wooden's words of wisdom are old-fashioned and homespun; they're the kind of admonitions we remember our grandparents giving us. "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation." "Don't measure yourself by what you have accomplished but by what you should have accomplished with your ability." "Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do."
Yet people from all walks of life are taking them to heart today and re-doubling their efforts to live by them. It's heartening to see these truths strike a chord at a time when pseudo-celebrities are often admired for their misbehavior, and many people tend to think first of themselves and how they can get the recognition they think they deserve. John Wooden may be doing more good for the world today than he has in a long time.
Mary Daily is a journalist, writer and teacher in Los Angeles and currently serves as senior communications writer at UCLA. She is also working on a memoir about growing up in the foothills of Appalachia.