This I Believe

Dennis - Phoenix, Arizona
Entered on November 16, 2006

This I Believe Essay

Attitude is Everything

I watch as my beautiful teenaged daughter struggles with the challenges of finding meaning in life and accepting adult responsibilities in a world moving too fast. My life was very different, losing both parents at an early age, coming of age in the early seventies, finding my way eventually to a vocation in which I have found a release for my creativity and passion. I am often amazed at the influence I can have simply because of a genuine, enthusiastic and caring attitude and a desire to make a positive, qualitative difference. An attitudinal shift can make all the difference.

I remember working with an old black man on the campus of UNC Charlotte as part of a summer job in 1978. I was bored and sore from pulling weeds from between the brick pavers around the library tower. I’m sure my poor attitude must have been showing, but one day I noticed the calm dignity with which Mr. Jenkins conducted himself. He seemed to relish ever cool breeze, the pattern and workmanship of brickwork, the opportunity to engage students as they walked by. Many of them paused to talk with him. Over lunch one day I asked him how he could stand to do this work day after day? That began a series of conversations that lasted for two weeks. I learned that for him, this work was seen in the context of past events which I could scarcely imagine. I learned that while I was always desiring to be somewhere else, he was very much aware of and “present in” his environment. He took pride in every act, no matter how menial it might seem to others and looking back I now realize that this infusion of care and integrity into every task made him “a professional”. It had nothing to do with education or credentials. It had everything to do with personal integrity and attitude.

It is funny to reflect on my studies at that time. I had abandoned urban planning for religious studies after taking an advanced religious studies course called “The Great Secret”. The religious studies department at UNCC in those years was extraordinary because of the diversity of perspectives and talent of the professors – Ed St. Clair, Ron Gestwicki, Jeff Myers, Lloyd Witherspoon, Dick Underwood – but while I got from them the depth perspective that would serve me well in the years to come, it was the groundskeeper, in retrospect, that embodied those principles in everyday life. As my professors would have said – it was the difference in “map knowledge” and “having actually made the journey.”

It is no mean achievement to view your life as a series of modest contributions to your family, your profession, your relationships, your community. So, at this stage in life, what do I believe?

I believe it is not so much our abilities, but our choices that define who we are as individuals and as a society. I believe knowing the difference between right and wrong, is never as difficult as we pretend it is. I believe in living honestly and with integrity. I believe the sheer volume of distractions that abound in modern life are a threat to man’s search for meaning and depth. I believe it is an unfortunate reality that evil does in fact exist and that we must be vigilant in recognizing and fighting it in all its shifting forms.

I believe that being faithful stewards to the Earth is a primary responsibility of humanity and that this is one of our greatest failing as a species. I have faith in our collective creative abilities and our limitless capacity for understanding and compassion.

I believe in a healthy skepticism toward “ultimate questions” – opting for an “openness to the mystery” rather than a dogmatic belief in things unknowable and ineffable. I have found this philosophical approach to be surprisingly uplifting when combined with an active, child-like curiosity and a creative and determined exploration of life’s enigmas.

I believe the day I met my beautiful wife was the luckiest day of my life and that my daughter’s artistic talent will be my greatest contribution to the world.

I believe love, family, dogs, Frisbee and baseball make life worth living.