During any social media visit, I scroll through a myriad of truisms and proverbs. These pearls of wisdom are often enhanced by exquisite photography or charming artwork meant to inspire. I pause occasionally to ponder a particular quotation or perhaps to copy one into my notebook. Sadly, I remember so few of them because there are so many of them.
Not that I want my Facebook friends to stop sharing their enduring beliefs or encouraging ideas. But I have my own set of long-held tenets and uplifting phrases, a veritable cache of familiar statements cobbled together over a lifetime – and to which I turn again and again.
Some sayings are simply basic reminders. Unlike my parents’ refrigerator door always covered with grocery lists, grandchildren’s artwork, and the occasional magnet, the outside of my fridge is pristine, nary a magnet in sight. I might, however, consider “magnetizing” a couple of my favorite sentiments about daily life:
IF YOU CAN’T SAY SOMETHING NICE, DON’T SAY ANYTHING AT ALL. My mother began drilling this precept into my head probably as soon as I learned to talk. My stairstep sisters and I drove her to distraction with our incessant squabbling and quibbling. But Mother’s behest aligns nicely with Robert Fulghum’s 1986 advice in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: to share, to clean up our own messes, to apologize, to stick together and hold hands, to flush. We all concern ourselves with today’s children learning the fundamentals of good manners and acceptable social behavior. I would suggest, however, that every adult invest in a refrigerator magnet to remind themselves of how to interact with others. The world would be a much friendlier, more peaceful place.
IT’S SIX OF ONE AND HALF A DOZEN OF THE OTHER. Another of Mother’s absolutely true truisms, this pithy phrase with which she settled many a childhood dispute. In fact, such pithiness might just cure what currently ails our country. Rarely is one neighbor, one co-worker, one political party completely right or completely wrong. A well-placed refrigerator magnet reminding us to accept responsibility equitably might cease the old blame-game and encourage us all to shake hands over the back fence or reach across the congressional aisle.
If I had a dollar for every memo I received or wrote during my teaching years, I could have retired much earlier. I may even come out of retirement to fire off a few memos of motivation:
IF WE READ A BOOK A DAY TO OUR CHILDREN, BY AGE 5 THEY WILL HAVE HEARD 1825 BOOKS. Even the child who wants to hear the same story every day for six weeks is still being exposed to 78,000 words a year, is still developing language skills, is sitting on someone’s lap. There is scarcely a more cost-effective method of preparing a child for school or life. The county library, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, Little Free Libraries are all stations along the road to literacy. That memo should be issued on a regular basis.
IF WE EACH DO A LITTLE, NO ONE HAS TO DO IT ALL. My mother talked often about “pitching in.” Almost any task can be accomplished – more efficiently and with greater success – if each person pitches in. As National Honor Society advisor, my favorite project was the annual blood drive. Members learned to conduct a smooth-running, productive community service as each provided an item for the canteen, enlisted donors, helped with set-up or clean-up. The enormous work and volunteerism involved in the bloodmobile served as a real-life learning experience for many students. Likewise, we need go no further than a Champaign County Habitat for Humanity build to find dozens and dozens of folks making their own contributions to the greater good. Obvious memo material…
A magnet hangs in a public place; there are paper memos and the computer-generated kind. For me, however, mantras are more personal – undoubtedly my strongest statements of the guidelines by which I strive to live my life:
NEVER AGAIN. In the concentration camps and Holocaust museums I have visited, I saw these two words expressed in numerous languages. It is easy enough to hope against a recurrence of the unthinkable depravity represented by ovens belching human remains in smoke form. However, I am not convinced that mankind has truly adopted the stance that every single person deserves to be treated as person. The Nazis exterminated those they considered subhuman. There are still too many folks treating other fellow humans as somehow undesirable, even vile. Regrettably, this mantra seems to have come to the fore more frequently in recent years.
DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU. In case the basis of NEVER AGAIN is unclear, the mantra of the Golden Rule offers the simple but profound solution to living in peace with others. I repeat it with increasing regularity.
WE MUST COMMIT OURSELVES TO A FUTURE THAT INCLUDES EACH OTHER. On the heels of Amanda Gorman’s inauguration poem, I recently discovered these words by Audre Lorde. This updated mantra contains overtones of NEVER AGAIN and the Golden Rule even as it outlines forward movement – and improvement – in our personal lives and the life of our nation.
The means of expression is a personal choice, be it a magnet or memo or mantra. Essential, however, is that we meaningfully affirm and steadfastly live according to our guiding principles.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.