Here it is. After 35 years of living, these are the top ten life lessons I have learned.
1) It Doesn't Cost a Penny to Say Thank You
I am amazed that something that should be so easy is actually so hard. It doesn't cost a penny to say thank you and it means so much to people, but many people are stingy when it comes to the saying thank you and giving appreciation. Ask yourself: how much do you love it when family, friends or co-workers have complimented your work, appreciated your hospitality or recognized something sweet or valuable you have done? I believe many work environments and living arrangements would be so much more healthy and pleasant if people appreciated and acknowledged the hard work and good done by others.
2) Your Shoes Won't Hug You When You Are Lonely
Americans love their shoes, cars and toys! Shopping is one of this country's great national pastimes-one that crosses both race and class. Owning Ipods and X boxes and big cars and nice clothes doesn't guarantee happiness. You shoes won't hug you when you are lonely. You car won't make you chicken soup when you are sick. We need to value our relationships and friendships and make sure that they are getting as much attention as our toys.
3) Everybody Has a Story
While I love to talk as much, if not more, than the next guy, I try to ask questions and listen to both strangers and good friends. I have found that everyone has an interesting story, a special talent and something that connects us. I love hearing about people's passions, family histories, and unique and common struggles. When you ask the questions, you find the connections.
4) Life is Hard-Be Compassionate to Others and to Oneself
Life is hard. Between the stresses of work, family, relationships, war, poverty, global warming (the list goes on), it is a struggle to stay sane and positive. Many of us will have crutches or bad habits when trying to cope with the madness in this world. Some will self medicate with legal and illegal drugs when trying to numb the pain. Some people will try to fill the holes in their hearts with food or shopping. Some will watch hours of TV everyday. Before we have judgment and look down on someone for their coping mechanisms, we should remember that all of us have our own issues and unhealthy living practices. We need to offer compassion and a help, not scorn and contempt, for people doing their best to get through this challenging world.
5) Turning Five Fingers into a Fist
Many of us work on issues that are close to our heart. We may work at a non-profit organization or be a teacher. We may believe in working "within the system" or believe that social change comes from "taking it to the streets." Sometimes we think our specialty or skill or our organization is doing the most important work and we put down and fight with others who are doing things differently. In reality, we need all of the pieces. We need grassroots activists. We need lawyers. We need filmmakers. We need communications professionals. We need the researchers. We need the fundraisers. We need people with all of these skills. Instead of competing and tearing down someone else who is focusing on a different aspect than we are, we need to turn the five individual fingers into a strong fist.
6) "I am going to get the guy throwing the babies in the river."
Two guys are walking along a river when they see a baby drowning in the water. They jump in and save the baby. After rescuing the baby they continue their walk when they see another baby in the river. Again they save the baby. They continue their walk and come upon another baby bobbing in the water. One guy starts running up the bank of the river. The other guy yells to his friend as he enters the water "Where are you going? We have to save the baby." The first guy yells back "I am going to get the guy who is throwing the babies in the river."
While we need to save individual babies, we also need to go after the guy throwing the babies in the river.
7) Three Stages of Love and Relationships: Enjoy Them All
There are three important stages when it comes to love and relationships. First there is dating and being single. At this stage you can date anyone you meet and you never know whom it is that may sweep you off your feet. Next is starting to fall in love and committing to someone. This stage is about the two of you and being able to do what ever you want, whenever you want. Next is committed with children. Another incredible stage that will change your life forever. Each of these three stages is totally unique and beautiful. We should enjoy each stage as it is happening, because once you move on to the next stage, you can never go back.
8) Life Experience Can Be Worth More than any Degree
Cindy Sheehan, Tony Papa, Derrel Myers: these are our heroes and leaders. Cindy Sheehan lost her son Casey in the war in Iraq and now leads an anti-war movement in this country to end the immoral war. Tony Papa spent 12 years behind bars for a first time nonviolent drug offense and, since his release, has helped change the draconian Rockefeller Drug laws so hundreds of others can come home. Derrel Myers' 22-year-old son was murdered and instead of pushing for more death, speaks out across the country against the racist death penalty system. These three leaders were able to turn tragedy into hope. These three remind us that people who have felt the brunt on injustice need to not only be at the table, but leading the struggle for justice.
9) I Don't Own One Home, but I Have 20 Homes
Although my wife and I rent in Brooklyn and don't own our place, we have 20 homes that we can stay at from California to Maine to Italy to Greece. We are a part of a larger community that opens and would open their homes at a moment's notice whether for pleasure or emergency. When you are generous and part of a larger community, you have countless more resources and open arms that provide more security and are worth more than any amount of money.
10) The Glass is Half Full
While there is war, poverty, and loneliness, there is community, love and passion. We need to remind ourselves of the beauty and goodness in our lives and in this world. Whether it is being thankful for our health or for our friends, we need to find something to be appreciative of. By finding the good, we will gain the strength to tackle our personal demons and injustices in the world. Being positive is helpful to ones personal health and is much more appealing and attractive to others.
Well there they are, my life lessons and personal beliefs all wrapped up in a little over two pages. Hopefully I will have another 10 lessons over the next 35 years.
Tony Newman is the communications director at the Drug Policy Alliance.