I had a promise to keep. When I decided to take a break from some of my online communities during the pandemic, it was to focus on my family, my friends, and myself. The pandemic raised my concern for all those I hold dear to the highest level. I had to check in with them to know that they are ok, they know how to protect themselves, and they understood the severity of COVID-19. Prior to March 2020, I had spread my online network so wide, that I wasn't making space for direct one-on-one time with my immediate family. I didn't know how my parents were really doing. Same with my brothers and their families. I took the first few months focusing on that group, then expanded out to my closest friends. Those people I was accustomed to seeing face-to-face every week or month had to receive my attention. It was part for my own sanity, but also so that they would know my family and I were there for them.
It was a promise that I had made when I was just a kid, but one that formed my personal values and philosophy. Care for others. Start with the self as you can not help others unless you can help yourself. Prioritize caring for family. Include close friends who need more close family. Identify friends and family who need caring, but do not neglect others who require less. Keep it going beyond close family and friends by extending caring and compassion to everyone.
When my karate dojo switched to virtual classes, one of the first homework assignments for the Black Belt class was to write about how our White Belt creed applies to our actions during the pandemic. The creed is below:
I promise to build true self-confidence by taking full responsibility for the development of my own mind, body, and spirit.
I promise to set a goal and high standards for each of the three tiers of life.
I promise to avoid when possible, to check if I cannot avoid, and lastly, to defend if I cannot avoid or check. Remember, it is not who is right, but what is right.
- Sensei Shanks
This creed is distinctly about committing to the martial way. I wrote about how I would be doing self-care with daily goals to work towards. I explained how I had already been applying the creed to my life to live in a martial way. Lastly, I wrote how I would help others through the pandemic with caring, with spreading knowledge of the virus and how to stay safe, and with adhering to policies and mandates to keep others safe. I explained that the last two sentences define the approach to doing these things. It wasn't just about avoiding the virus, but about doing "what is right". And not just what I feel is right, but what others feel is right too.
Among many of my friends, it seemed like they had a similar sentiment, but then there are others who would run you down to get their cup of coffee faster, nevermind they worry about getting someone else sick.
Since I wrote that essay 2 years ago, "what is right" feels like it is under attack. You will find on social media and in the news that many of the safeguards against contracting the virus have been politicized by both sides, because individual freedom is a very important concept in the USA. I find the simple solution to understanding where "what is right" falls is understanding the line where an individual freedom begins to harm others or step on others individual freedom.
The second part is defining "what is wrong". Right and wrong are easy concepts to understand when you are young as most things are easily contrasted in black or white, but as adults we encounter more and more gray situations where there is right and wrong on both sides. We can better deduce "what is wrong" by understanding risk and what is an acceptable risk. This leads to the complex discussion how the good of the many can out-weight the good of a few. It is a discussion with multifaceted angles and hypotheticals, which is not necessarily where I am going with this. Getting back to risks, with critical thinking and compassion, one can navigate to a solid conclusion, but will always find themselves falling somewhere on the political spectrum, thus alienating some people in the process. If you leave compassion behind, then the critical thinking can lead to absurd conclusions. If you leave critical thinking behind, then compassion can lead to ineffective results. Balancing these while understanding effects of your assumptions and unknowns will lead to effective conclusions. Clearly communicating those conclusions is then important to gain support. But in the Twitter age, clear communication is TL;DR. This is where you lose your audience and why I feel "what is right" is under attack in favor of "what is convenient".
One of the hardest things to do in life can be to hold yourself accountable. It is so easy to lie to yourself to get what you want and forget about the lie when it matters. It is so easy to let someone else feel the burden of your mistakes instead of owning up to it. It is so easy to procrastinate something tedious for something frivolous. But if you make a promise to yourself in the name of what is right, then how are you going to justify breaking it?
My promise to myself is always to be part of the solution, and avoid being part of the problem. What is your promise?