This I Believe

Joel West - Pottstown, Pennsylvania
Entered on November 1, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe good stewardship is my moral obligation.

The first time I remember failing in this obligation was when I was about 10-years-old. Growing up in Arkansas, one of my favorite summer pastimes was catching crawdads in the creek near my house. I usually caught them with a little net and threw them back. Once I caught a couple of exceptionally huge crawdads and decided to keep them. When my dad saw them in a fishbowl in my bedroom, he ordered their return to their home in the creek. I put this off until they finally died. I attempted to conceal their death by unceremoniously throwing the dead crawdads over our back fence. A few days later, my father asked what became of the creatures. When I lied, saying I took them to the creek, he asked why there were two dead crawdads behind the fence.

John F. Kennedy inspired my dad’s sense of democracy’s stewardship. After the President’s assassination, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, where he learned the disciplinary techniques he later applied to his children. Accordingly, I had to dig a twenty-five-square-foot grave in our backyard for the crawdads’ burial. Everyday after school I worked on the enormous hole until, finally, after several days, my father asked what I was learning. When I replied with a sigh and shrugging of the shoulders, he introduced a new word into my vocabulary: stewardship. He defined it for me, drawing from the Book of Genesis, his Cherokee grandfather’s teachings, and his experience in Vietnam. He explained that in mankind’s mortal hands was vast power to nurture or destroy almost anything. God granted humans dominion over the Earth, which came with a concomitant responsibility watch over the world, and never extinguish life recklessly or for mere comfort or convenience.

My understanding and exercise of stewardship evolved over the years. It led me into environmental activism after high school. As a nineteen-year-old grocery store cashier, it meant making sure all the cash register’s money was accounted for, not for fear of losing my job, but because, like the creek that ran through my neighborhood as a kid, it was entrusted to my care. In college, good stewardship meant studying hard and never taking for granted the educational opportunities my parents did not have. Now, as a government attorney, stewardship means maintaining my office’s integrity and never compromising the public’s trust just so I can gratify myself at the end of a trial by saying, “I won.”

I believe my actions have an effect, whether large or small, personal or global, positive or negative. I do not know whether I will be personally judged by my creator or posterity, but surely the effects of my actions will. Even if these effects cannot be traced back to me, I cannot escape my responsibility. It is my hope that, by being a good steward, those who share this place with me now, and inherit it from me later, will have many rewards and few consequences.