I had never heard of Bessie Andersen Stanley before, and I doubt most other people had either. She wrote this as an entry to a competition, which she won, and that seems to have been the sum total of her outpourings. But it nicely sums up what we should see as success, rather than how it seems to be seen today.
“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
Who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
Who has left the world better than he found it,
Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had;
Whose life was an inspiration;
Whose memory a benediction.”
– Bessie Andersen Stanley
And it’s how we see it now that’s at the root of so much that is wrong. It’s the thing that spurs people on to ignore the needs of others, to drive forward regardless, to put themselves before all others and worse, to not care what legacy is left for those to come after.
It’s a ‘me, me, me’ world.
It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, or where you are, just look around you and observe the singlemindedness that most people display in mundane, everyday events and occurrences. From the aggression that we see displayed so frequently on the roads… to the open disregard for rules and the finer aspects of common courtesy… to people simply taking things that do not belong to them. And this isn’t thieves, it’s the common-a-garden, everyday folk, who aren’t on the breadline.
The pick-a-lane brigade on the highway is another example. Driving on the N1 the other Sunday morning, it was still quite early and there wasn’t a lot of traffic about, but the vast majority of people were driving in the fast lane or the one right next to it. There’s no apparent reason why, but one thing is clear. They want to be the fastest and the first to be there, regardless… even if there’s no one else around to compete with.
Then there are the I-don’t-care-what-the-rules-say-I’ll-do-what-I-want people that flourish in every public space. This is the woman that drove the wrong way around the carpark because it suited her needs better, nevermind that all the poor folk going the right way around were inconvenienced. The man who slipped through the changing light and blocked all the traffic crossing the intersection, because he’d get where he was going 30 seconds faster. Tough on everyone else.
This is the guy who threw his rubbish on the floor because the bin was a distance away and he didn’t want to walk. The driver that popped into the parking bay you’d waited so patiently for. The multiple vehicles that take the emergency lane because the highway is blocked. The woman teaching her son to drive who happily allowed him to sit in the fast lane even though he wasn’t overtaking… and this is what he’s learnt now, and there’s no changing it.
There’s little idea of the type of success Bessie talked about in her poem. Of giving the best of yourself, of leaving the world a better place than you found it. Whether it’s Generation X, the Millenials, or whatever other age groups there might be, it’s just not sustainable and it’s no wonder we find ourselves in the predicament, globally, that we do.
It’s endemic. It’s selfish. And, it’s all about me.