My mother used to tell me I hit the terrible twos with a vengeance. My newly found power to manipulate the people around me was heady stuff for my small self. Adult-imposed limits became barriers to knock down. I reveled in my power to make grownups uncomfortable with my small rebellions.
As a single parent working five and a half days a week, Mother reached the end of her patience and finally hit on a technique that worked. On a day when I was playing happily and not testing any limits, she sat me down for a talk.
“You have to decide,” she told me, “whether you are going to be a good girl or a bad girl. If you are a good girl, people will like you. They will want to play with you. They will trust you and let you do more things. If you are a bad girl, they will be angry with you a lot. They will not let you touch or play with nice things. You will be alone and unhappy.
“Which do you want to be? A good girl or a bad girl?”
I wouldn’t answer.
When Mother told the story, she always said I pondered the question for three agonizing weeks. I’m not sure they were agonizing for me, but they were for my worried parent. Then one day, out of the blue, I said to her, “I’ve decided to be a good girl.”
Decision made, I kept my word. Naturally I still occasionally got into trouble, but I halted my automatic opposition to limits imposed by others. I relaxed. Mother relaxed. The adults who cared for me during the day relaxed. Goodness turned out to have benefits.
I’m sitting at my computer on a snowy day, thinking about how our simple decisions can change a lot of the things that hamper us and harm our planet. We can decide to consume less in the western world so as to lessen our demands on the environment. We can decide to pay our fair share of taxes so the gap between rich and poor narrows. We can decide to show compassion to those who are suffering. We can decide to spend our dollars on food that is grown with respect for the earth. We can decide to stop stereotyping people whose culture, gender or social status are different from our own. We can decide to listen to each other with open hearts.
The list has no end, but it all boils down to our willingness to make decisions for the common good instead of just for our own self-interest. That sounds simplistic, and if it were easy we would be living in a perfect world.
Choosing to act for the common good is actually one of the hardest things we can do. I fail at it miserably, time and time again. Most people do. But the people I write about on this blog are taking some small and large steps in that direction. Their efforts are rippling outward. And that gives me hope.