Can good become better?
This spring I sat at a coffee shop in Lisbon enjoying a sunny morning in Portugal, towards the end of a lovely trip with my wife. It was a beautiful, warm day. I felt content and peaceful. As I watched the world go by, I was struck by an interesting thought that touched down in my mind, like a plane coming in for a landing—How could I be a better person? I decided to investigate this thought a little more—after all, I had nothing I had to do at that moment.
It wasn’t that I thought I was a bad person. In general, I feel pretty good about myself. But I realized that good could always become better. And if I could, why wouldn’t I want to improve? My thoughts continued in this direction—How could I be a better husband? Father? Brother? Friend? Co-worker? Administrator? These were all roles that involved relationships. Indeed, becoming a better person meant improving my relationships with others—Diane, my children, my friends, and so on. I pondered—what’s the best way to figure out how to improve my performance in those associations. Of course, I had my own ideas about how I could be a better person. But wouldn’t it be useful to ask my friends and family what they thought?
My wife was drinking tea next to me. I turned to Diane and asked her— “How could I be a better husband”? She looked surprised—after all, there wasn’t any context for this question.
She thought for a moment---“Sometimes you don’t really listen to me. You interrupt me before I’m finished with my thought. You would be a better husband if you listened more”. She was quiet again, looked at me sideways, and quipped— “I’m not sure I want to ask you the same question”. I reassured her that I wasn’t really interested in how she could be a better wife.
I was a little surprised by her response to my question, although I realized she was right. It wasn’t what I would have picked out of the closet. But I decided to work on listening better. I recognize that I have a lot of room for improvement in that domain.
Recently, I asked my brother the same question. He indicated that as far as he was concerned I was a pretty good brother! But he also had a request too—he wanted to me to attend some of his family gatherings in the future. I hadn’t always in the past and he let me know how important it was to him that I attend. That was his thought about how I could be a better brother.
At the right time, I am looking forward to asking my kids the same question. And then I plan to ask the people I work with how I can be a better administrator and colleague.
I am not suggesting that we should seek perfection—and I’m not even sure what that would look like. Making mistakes, impatience, or dropping the ball is part of being a human being. Hopefully, we learn from those missteps.
Building a better world, which we all hope for, begins with becoming a better person. It’s within our power and control to move in that direction. It requires asking the right questions, listening to others, and taking and sustaining action.
In other words, it’s up to us.