Why My Daughters Train in BJJ

I am a father trying to do right by my children.

As parents, we want what’s best for our children. We do everything we can to make sure they’re loved, well fed, and have a roof over their head. We’re preparing them to be successful adults. We sign them up for gymnastics, music lessons, soccer, martial arts, little league, science camp, ballet, cheer, and swimming. We try to support and nurture their individuality when it’s in their best interest, but as the adult in the room, we’re left in the driver’s seat, and have to decide when it’s not.

Trying to sort through all these options and pick the best can be challenging. In addition to simple recreation, we look for the benefits; will this help my child be more fit, develop greater self esteem, or learn the value of teamwork? Part of our decision is based on the logistics of somehow getting to and from, in between school, work, and family time. Part of it is financial. While we’d love to give our progeny everything, the bottom line is, we are inevitably limited; there are only so many hours in a week, and only so many dollars in our wallets.

I am a martial artist biased by 35 years training, studying, and teaching.

I believe that martial arts is a “package deal,” providing a one-stop shopping experience for parents. When taught effectively, it is powerfully transformative, developing strength, flexibility, and cardio-vascular fitness, while also promoting valuable life lessons like integrity, self discipline, respect, focus, tenacity, and self esteem. A good martial art program can also provide it’s students with something other activities most definitely do not: self-defense. This full-package should make martial arts especially appealing to parents struggling with the decision of where to enroll their children.

There is one caveat, however: not all martial arts are taught effectively, and thus do not live up to the promise. Self-defense is one area in particular, where many programs fall short. It is a messy affair, and has much more to do with a state of mind than fancy techniques. An individual must be able to function under duress, and have an effective arsenal that will work consistently. To develop this a student needs to train in combat conditions regularly and consistently. It is simply not feasible for the general public to engage in full-contact sparring on a regular basis. Given the current awareness of the detrimental, long-term effects of repeated head trauma, the problem with children regularly punching and kicking one another in the head should be apparent.

However, in Brazilian Jiujitsu (BJJ), we can safely “roll” (spar) in every class. We learn a multitude of techniques, and have the regular opportunity to apply them against  opponents of varied shapes, sizes, and skill. This hones the fundamentals of BJJ, as well as our own individual “game.” These fundamentals work, regardless the circumstances. A smaller, weaker individual really can learn to control a larger, stronger aggressor. The intensity of this phase of training develops the mental fortitude that enables us to remain “calm” under pressure, to be able to fight through and survive often uncomfortable, seemingly untenable conditions. In this manner, our skills and our mental tenacity are forged in the fires of combat.

I am a biased father who’s daughters will be well-prepared for all of life’s challenges.

My oldest daughters have discovered their passions. (the jury’s still out for the third) Between school and pursuing these, there is little time left for martial arts. It’s currently my job to protect them, but that responsibility is quickly becoming their own. Brazilian Jiujitsu provides them the training they need, in the limited amount of time they have, to become sufficiently well-prepared for the unlikely specter of violence.

For most of us, the odds of being the victim of violence are small. (here’s some perspective) Indeed we’re much more likely to die in an automobile accident, or of heart disease, than to die from a violent crime. Just like those examples, we can improve our odds by being smart about the risks, and developing good habits – prevention truly is the best medicine. As discussed last week, while avoiding violence altogether is our best bet, given it’s critical nature, it only makes sense to be prepared for it none-the-less. The question we must ask ourselves is one of resource allocation. That is, how much time and energy should we devote towards preparing ourselves and our children?

See you on the mat.

Why My Girls Train in Martial Arts.

One of my training partners recently published an insightful post on Facebook that does a great job reiterating my feelings as a martial artist and a father. As a Law Enforcement Officer, his perspective is further sharpened by the realities of the world in which we live.

“My son, due to his age, has been doing BJJ off and on since he turned five – so much so that when he starts again it’s basically brand new.  Last week I took him to class and needless to say it’s been a while. Toward the end of class he was rolling with another kid and got his back taken, ending up face down on the mat. Not knowing what to do and in a panic he yelled, ‘daddy help me.’

It has been a week and that yell is still fresh in my mind, and gets replayed over and over again. It’s a different type of scream when your kid is in trouble, and it hits you at your core. I can only imagine if it were a real life event with drastic implications. I’ll be the first to say BJJ or any type of martial arts is not the end-all-be-all, but I would be devastated if my son or daughter screamed those final words without giving him or her a fighting chance.

I’ve seen a lot of victims in my life – most made it, some didn’t – and I wonder if those were their last words towards the end.

I understand my career gives me a skewed view on life, but trust me it’s better to be prepared then not. Empower your kids at a young age so they have a fighting chance later on in life. I know of a few places to sign your kids up to train.”

As a former part-paid fireman, I am well aware of the risks we face in the home. We take all appropriate precautions, avoid over-loading extension cords, keep the clothes-dryer duct clean, and wash the exhaust fan filters over the stove monthly. The odds of ever having a house fire are slim. Nonetheless, we have smoke alarms throughout the house, and a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. The children have been taught and practiced various evacuation plans in the event of a fire.

In this same spirit, they are learning how to defend themselves as well. They are taught the risks, steps to take to avoid problems, as well as how to fight if they must. If they make good choices and pay attention, they will probably never need the fire extinguisher, nor will they need to fight.

The bottom line is, we live in a pretty safe time and place here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Violent crime has been declining since the early 1990’s, even with the slight upticks the last two years. (Sadly, those increases were due to specific neighborhoods in specific cities!) With a little bit of prevention – being educated on the actual risks, and staying aware of our surroundings – we can all but eliminate the chances of experiencing violence and the need to defend ourselves.

While the odds are nothing will happen, it is critical than one be prepared in the event that it does. Another friend once made this comparison –

“Our need for a car is common, but it isn’t critical. We use them all the time, but if push comes to shove, we can find another way to get around. The need to defend ourselves isn’t common, but it is critical, for when it comes to violence, it is the only difference between being the victor or the victim.”

The skills we need to defend ourselves, to give ourselves a fighting chance in the most dire of circumstances, require a bit of time and effort to acquire. Due to the low risk, most people don’t even consider this investment. Just like a fire extinguisher, we rarely see the need. Given the critical nature of violence, however, don’t you think it’s worth it?

See you on the mat.

What? I can’t hear you…

The Yin and the Yang – we’ve all seen the image; two interlocking circles appear to flow into one another, and at the same time are part of a larger circle. The Chinese Taijitu (太极图) dates back over a thousand years to the Song Dynasty.Yin yang

In the 1880’s what Koreans call Taegeuk (태극) was adopted into the South Korean National Flag.Flag of South Korea

Even as a little kid growing up in the far reaches of small-town Montana I had seen this symbol. It was on the box cars and cabooses of the Northern Pacific Railroad which ran near my house.Northern_Pacific_Railway_Logo,_November,_1952

One doesn’t have to be a Daoist to appreciate the meaning of the symbol. What a simple, yet powerful image of integrity – of “being whole and undivided,” or “being unified or sound in construction.” (Oxford Dictionary) The two opposing colors flow from, and into, one another, thereby creating the whole. Take away either part and you’re left with an incomplete, dysfunctional package. Imagine it as a tire on your car and you get the idea.1:2 yin:yang As Brazilian Jiujitsu practitioners, we’re continually working to refine our skill set. We learn offensive (yang) and defensive (yin) techniques. We also have to continually modify our “game” as we train with a diverse group of teammates. One can’t use the same strategy against a smaller, faster opponent that might be effective against a larger, stronger opponent. We must develop multiple “sides” to our game if we wish to be the best we can be.

“Don’t say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Just as we work to round out our BJJ game, we should work to have integrity as a human being as well. Just as the Yin/Yang symbol is a combination of all it’s parts, we too are a product of all our parts. Our words should be consistent with what we think, otherwise, we’re simply lying. Our actions should match our words, or else we’re hypocritical. Our thoughts should be reflected in everything we say and do. In this manner, we strive to maintain our integrity.integrityvenndiagram

Ol’ Ralph W. Emerson got it right.

See you on the mat.

The Golden Rule

We’ve all heard it, or some derivation, before. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  The Golden Rule has been handed down through antiquity, from the ancient civilizations of Egypt, India, and Persia. It can be found, in some form or fashion, in every major religion or philosophy. People often adhere to it in the hopes of reciprocity, that is, “If I’m nice to you, you’ll be nice in return.” Parents and teachers use it to teach children empathy. I don’t know how many times I’ve caught myself asking my own daughters, “How would you like it if someone did that to you?”

It can also be a powerful tool in leadership.

Back in December, I blogged about Leading by Example, and mentioned the difference between being a boss and being a leader. It’s a common misconception that the two are synonymous. A boss is someone who’s position or title in an organization allows them to tell people what to do. They often have the power to reward and punish in order to enforce compliance. Being a leader, on the other hand, is much more than simply ordering folks around.

“The True Measure of Leadership is Influence – Nothing More, Nothing Less”

While there is no single trait that makes successful leaders, there are plenty of lists out there trying to boil it down to a manageable few. In his highly regarded bookJohn C. Maxwell discusses The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. One such law, The Law of Influence states, “The true measure of Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” An effective leader doesn’t need a title, nor leverage. They influence those around them to success. They inspire through word and through deed.

Which brings us back to The Golden Rule. If you truly wish to lead others, you must first lead the way. Telling them what to do just doesn’t have the impact that showing them does.

If you want others to treat you with respect, treat people respectfully.

If you want others to work hard, then work hard.

If you want others to be honest, then always tell the truth.

If you want others to be patient, then be patient.

Whether as a teacher, or as a parent, it’s important to remember that this leading by example thing can go both ways. I don’t know how many times I’ve witnessed one of my daughters do something, only to realize exactly where it came from. Be prepared for your students/children to reflect both your best and worst traits.

If you’re impatient, don’t be surprised when your student/child is impatient.

If you’re inconsiderate of others, expect your student/child to be inconsiderate of you.

If you lose your temper, get ready for your child’s tantrum.

If you have unhealthy eating/exercise habits…

As martial artists, we have the power to better our lives, and the lives of those around us. We can inspire one another to greater success on and off the mat. Consider all of the people we get to train with. Who is the most enjoyable to train with? Who is the most helpful or inspiring, and why? What kind of a training partner are you?

See you on the mats!

Priorities

As a full-time dad AND a full-time business owner, I am scrambling to take care of everything  which the two jobs demand, and still make the time to train as much as I should. When I was a younger man, I would just sleep a lot less, but I’m finding that isn’t an option any more. So I’ve got to re-examine my time management, and this means taking a look at my priorities. A tool I use comes from The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey.

There is more “self-help” literature out there than any mere mortal could ever hope to read, and just like all of the dietary and/or fitness advice also available in bulk, much of it simply rehashes what’s already been said. It’s essentially 100,000 different variations of the basics, repackaged in an attempt to cash in on a booming industry. That being said,  Stephen Covey is one that I highly recommend.  His is a basic treatise on the fundamentals of succeeding in whatever endeavor you choose to pursue. It’s been years since I’ve read it, but I make reference to it on a regular basis, when I’m teaching my children, when I’m coaching an athlete, or when I need to re-up my own game.

His time-management system of four quadrants is a great way to break down activities, and best organize one’s time. Being a parent of three children, there’s quite a bit of time spent in Quadrant 1 that is unavoidable, and this list of “needs to be done right now” can be tiring because of it’s urgency. With foresight and planning, however, we can lessen the severity of this. That means effectively spending more time in Quadrant 2. As the girls mature, and can better plan their activities, homework, chores, etc. we find ourselves eliminating many of the crises in Quadrant 1.

matrix-for-job-aidsI am constantly guilty of the simple pleasures that come from participating in Quadrant 4. This is when our whimsical wants of the moment take up our precious time, and keep us from accomplishing what is truly important. My weakness is reading. I continually allow myself to get sucked into yet another topic that I realize I don’t know enough about. I buy a few books on the subject, and dive in.

It’s easy to justify all of the reading I do in the name of self improvement. The real issue, however, is the timelines of that reading. If it’s interfering with other things that I’ve made a priority, then I need to do it another time. I have to re-examine my priorities, or as Covey so succinctly states in his third habit, “Put first things, first.”  Then I need to make sure I’m minimizing the types of activities found in Quadrant 4.

How is your time management helping you achieve your dreams?

See you on the mat!

Are You Comfortable?

I recently came across a blog written by another student of Brazilian Jiujitsu. Grips & Growls chronicles his journey. Anybody already living the BJJ lifestyle will be able to relate. For those considering trying Brazilian Jiujitsu for the first time, his is a fresh perspective from one who has just recently begun. One particular post entitled “Sweaty Floor Karate,” hit upon a key concept of our art.

When you’re comfortable being uncomfortable for a hobby, everything else gets easier.

Let’s face it. We all enjoy the good things in life. We glory in the opportunity to sleep in, look forward to the chance to just sit on the couch and “veg,” and spend our weekdays anticipating a weekend at the lake, or a night out on the town. Daily, we are tempted to just hang out at the local coffee shop. While we’re at it, we can snack on a Snickers® bar, have a soda with lunch, and a little cheesecake for dessert.

While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying any of these from time to time, too much of a good thing is, simply stated, too much.

Consider as well all of the technology we’re surrounded by, and for the most part, take for granted. It was all designed with the intent to make life easier. There are planes, trains, and automobiles that get us where we’re going. Flip a switch and we have lights. Push a button and we have air conditioning. Push another and we change the channel. Turn a dial and we’re mixing, juicing, and cooking our food. We can open and close the garage door without ever leaving our car. Indeed, with a few thumb clicks and swipes on our smartphone, we can do just about anything, without ever leaving our home!

Remember the people aboard the spaceship Axiom in the movie WALL-E?

Our modern, suburban lifestyle provides us with ready access to every luxury imaginable, and an environment nearly free from discomfort. However, all of this easy living has a downside: it makes us weak. Just like the poor folks abroad the fictional ship Axiom, such a lifestyle can leave us ill-prepared to deal with adversity.

There are moments in our lives that can be less than pleasant. Taking an exam in school, applying for a job, and speaking in front of a large audience are some common examples. Avoiding them isn’t always an option, and oftentimes it isn’t in our best interest to do so. A successful test score, job interview, or presentation could lead to a vast improvement in our lives in the form of college placement, employment, or a promotion. These are times when being able to remain confident, calm, and clear-headed can enable us to effectively deal with the circumstances. (Let’s call these the three C’s of being comfortable.)

Learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable is fundamental to the transformational power of Brazilian Jiujitsu.

There’s nothing quite like having a larger, stronger training partner who has gained a superior position to help us understand the importance of the three C’s. In this circumstance, it is guaranteed you are going to be uncomfortable. As the pressure they apply smashes you into the mat, it gradually becomes harder to breath, with each consecutive breath a bit more shallow than the last.

The beauty of Brazilian Jiujitsu is that there’s a way out. If you can stay calm and clear-headed enough to remember your technique, and then execute confidently, you can escape. Not only that, but it can become a total reversal of fortune. It is an exhilarating experience to escape, improve your position, and then submit the person who was smashing you moments before.

Brazilian Jiujitsu is physically and mentally taxing. It pushes us to our limits. This is what makes it so powerful. The confidence gained radiates into every aspect of our being. After training with our teammates, everything else appears less intimidating. Any anxiety regarding an upcoming exam, job interview, or public speaking engagement is more manageable. We can look life’s challenges in the eye and say, “is that all you’ve got?” Our training enables us be confident, calm, and clear-headed when facing adversity.

We can be comfortable being uncomfortable.

See you on the mats.

Re-commit

Way back in January I talked about New Year’s resolutions, and the difference between being committed to a goal versus simply being interested. If you are seriously committed to your goals, surely you have a plan, and are following through with implementing it. Great accomplishments take a long, concerted effort to achieve, so it is a good idea to periodically take stock of where you’re at.

Now that we’re already into the second quarter of 2018, it’s a good time to assess the progress you’ve made this past quarter. Are you on track, ahead of schedule, or have you fallen behind? If you’re in one of the first two categories, congratulations and keep up the good work! If you find yourself falling behind, or having not even begun, do not despair.

Today is the day to re-commit to success.

There’s an acronym that’s been around since the beginning of time, or at least the 1980’s, that provides a great framework for setting goals. I use it to remind myself to be S.M.A.R.T. about the goals I set. SMART goals should be:

Specific

Measurable

Attainable

Relevant

Time bound

Pick worthy goals and write them down.

First of all, take the time to seriously consider what you want to accomplish. Make sure it is relevant. Identify your core principles; the ideals that make you who you are. Is this goal consistent with your principles? Is it something you truly want and are willing to commit to? There’s no point in wasting your time pretending to pursue something your heart’s not really into.

Be specific in what you want to achieve, and how you’re going to do it.  For example, rather than a general “get in better shape,” a student of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu might decide to improve their fitness for better success in training. I find sets of threes easy to remember, so it could look something like this.

  1. Improve shoulder and hip mobility by taking two yoga classes/week.
  2. Increase strength by committing to three days/week of lifting.
  3. Clean up diet by minimizing processed “junk foods” and eating vegetables and lean meats every meal.

It’s important to make a list of measurable results with which to monitor your progress.

  1. Compare shoulder range of motion for Kimura and Americana every quarter
  2. Bench press my body weight, and squat 2X my body weight.
  3. Roll six 5-minute rounds without a break.

Make sure to write it all down! It may seem trivial, but writing down your goals, makes them more real. Putting them up where you see them on a daily basis helps remind you of your commitment. Hanging them in a conspicuous, public place where your friends/family can see them adds another layer of accountability.

Make your aspirations manageable

Make sure your goals are attainable. Sure, it’s nice to dream big, but try to be somewhat realistic as well. A 20 year old white belt who sets out to become a world champion is fully within the realm of possibility. A 60 year old white belt who wants to become the UFC Champion is another story.

Your goals must fit within your personal time constraints. There are only so many hours in the day, and while it would be nice if we could devote every waking hour to such pursuits, most of us don’t have such luxury. We need to work around our jobs, families, and other obligations. With a limited amount of time available on a weekly basis, it’s important to set reasonable timelines in which to accomplish our goals.

Additionally, over-commitment to a short term expectation often leads to frustration on multiple levels. People get fired up when they initially commit to a goal, and can devote too much time/energy to their goal, at the expense of other areas of their lives. Over time, the stress from those other commitments builds, and can lead to the need to abandon the pursuit and “put one’s house back in order.”

Finally, your goals should be time bound. Pick a specific (reasonable) date in the future, say one year out. Then you can break that down into quarterly, monthly, or even weekly increments to create a solid plan of attack.

Ready, Aim, FIRE!

Lose this day loitering—’twill be the same story
To-morrow–and the next more dilatory;
Then indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting o’er lost days.
Are you in earnest? seize this very minute–
What you can do, or dream you can, begin it,
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it,
Only engage, and then the mind grows heated—
Begin it, and the work will be completed!

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, as translated by  John Anster

All of the preparation and planning in the world is moot if it isn’t backed by action. Once you’ve set the goals, and developed a plan, it’s time to implement. Get busy putting in the time and effort, stick to the plan, and enjoy the success which is sure to follow.

See you on the mat!

Focus

What a wonderful, crazy world in which we live. We go to work and we play. We go shopping, come home, and fix dinner. We rest. All the while, our families, friends, and neighbors are there, taking the time to make us part of their lives as well. Technology beckons, as the television, radio, computer, and smart phone also vie for our attention. There are books, blogs, and articles to be read, videos to watch, and games to play. The phone rings, pings, or vibrates to alert us to yet another call, text, or email to be answered. We become engulfed in the ebb and flow of traffic as we commute to work, and transport our children to school.

We are continually surrounded on all sides by a seemingly endless barrage. It often seems as though everything is demanding your immediate attention. In this ongoing sea of activity, it can be easy to lose sight of where you are, or where you’re headed. Our ability to focus is a powerful tool that can help us effectively traverse such a multifaceted  landscape.

Focus your eyes, focus your mind, focus your body.

One of mantras I teach younger martial artists is, “Focus your eyes, focus your mind, focus your body.” It’s a reminder of the importance of paying attention to the task at hand. When we spar at the studio, or compete at a tournament, we must have a singular focus. We need to keep our eyes focused on our training partner/opponent, our mind focused on our game plan, and our body properly prepared for the ensuing match. A break in any one of the three greatly decreases our chances of success.

While the intensity of competition demands it, this level of concentration is helpful in more common aspects of daily living as well. We really should strive to focus in such a manner on all endeavors throughout the day. Being continually distracted by extraneous factors, makes us less efficient at getting the job done. When writing this post, for example, I have to turn on the “do not disturb” on my iPhone. Otherwise, I’ll be tempted to respond to the five texts, 20+ emails, and three phone calls I’ll surely have waiting when I’m done.

“Wherever you are, be there!” – Jim Rohn

Efficiency is one reason to be focused on the here and now. Safety is another. Being aware of one’s surroundings is the primary step in self-defense. For example, given the fact that automobile accidents are the #1 cause of accidental death in the U.S. with over 35,000 deaths annually, wouldn’t you think that it might be wise to pay attention while crossing a street, or while driving, for that matter? Yet, given the inherent risk, I am amazed at the number of people I see crossing the street with their gaze locked onto their smart-phone. (that makes “smart-phone” an oxymoron, doesn’t it?)

“Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.” – Dale Carnegie

Quality of life is yet another reason to practice focusing on the here and now. Often times we bemoan past events, or worry about the future. While it is good to learn from our past mistakes, dwelling on them does nothing other than to relive the negative feelings caused. It is also good to plan for the future, and thus be prepared for tomorrow. Worrying about it, however, is just adding more needless stress to our already stressful lives. Learn from past mistakes and move on. Plan for the future, and trust your plan. Learn to live today for today, and enjoy every moment.

“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday and the other is called Tomorrow. Today is the right day to Love, Believe, Do and mostly Live.” – Dalai Lama XIV

See you on the mat.

Spring Is in the Air

As we close out the month of March and gear up for April, we find ourselves embracing the changing seasons. Last week was the Spring Equinox. The days are getting longer, the temperature is warming up, and everything is in bloom. (Of course, for those of us with allergies, “Spring is in the air” takes on a whole new meaning.)

Spring is a time of renewal, and has been celebrated as such throughout history. Our ancestors rejoiced as they’d survived the harsh realities of yet another winter, recognizing that spring meant the opportunity to plant crops and harvest the food necessary to survive the coming year. Our modern lifestyles have all but removed the arduous difficulties of surviving winter, and thus the shift to spring isn’t nearly as vital to our existence, and yet we still find the longer, warmer days lifting our spirits. We still celebrate spring with holidays such as Mayday, Easter, and Passover. We open our windows to air out our homes, we clean our closets, and we tidy up our yards.

The cold, dark winter of poor choices and missed opportunities is behind us.

This idea of spring cleaning extends into our lives in other ways as well. Spring, and the renewal occurring all around us, are reminders that there’s always another opportunity. We find ourselves motivated to start new routines. “I’m going to clean up this house, put everything in it’s place, and keep it that way”  We are reinvigorated with aspirations to  eat healthier, exercise more, and tone up that beach body. Why not? Now is the perfect time to re-focus our sites and start achieving our goals. The cold, dark winter of poor choices and missed opportunities is behind us. Whatever your goals may be, there’s no better time to start making dreams reality.

What are your dreams?

What are you waiting for?

See you on the mats.

Clean Your Room

As parents, we’ve all been there. “How many times do I need to remind these kids to clean up their stuff?” I have to laugh at myself when I hear the discussion between my daughters and I – the same discussion I had with my mom some four decades ago. I’m guessing it’s probably the same discussion she had with her parents, and sounds identical to the one our daughters may someday have with their children. The rooms always end up a mess, and we adults always demand they be cleaned. Round and round it goes.

I’ve come to care a bit less about how tidy the girls’ rooms are on a daily basis. They can make as big of a mess as they like, knowing that eventually the place will need a good cleaning, and it’s their responsibility to do it. I think it’s vital for children to learn this at an early age, because this simple act reinforces a larger ideal. The concept is fundamental to being successful, and to being a good citizen. Each of us must hold ourselves accountable for the mess we make, and be responsible enough to clean it up.

Have you ever attempted to park while shopping, only to find a shopping cart blocking the spot? The inconvenience of finding another spot, or getting out and moving the cart represent the cost you pay, albeit minor, for another persons actions. Ever notice how many carts are left out? Or how often people leave garbage in them? The increased work-hours spent collecting, cleaning, and returning them to the store represent an expense for the business, and thus will be reflected in a higher cost (once again, to you) of the goods sold.

I often see frail older people essentially using the cart as a walking aid, or harried moms simultaneously trying to load their groceries and their hoard of kids into their minivan.  These are instances when I’m personally willing to absorb the costs for their sake. In fact, I’ll volunteer to take the cart back if I’m headed to the store.

On the other hand, most of the carts are left haphazardly by completely able-bodied folks apparently too busy to be bothered. Perhaps they consider the increased cost incurred by their actions to be a convenience fee. Maybe they figure they’re creating jobs for some low-wage, entry level positions. Personally, I can’t help but wonder whether their parents made them clean their room.

Such evaluation of the costs/benefits of our actions is a big part of being civically minded. Taking the time to consider how our actions affect those around us makes us more aware of our role in our community. By striving to be better friends, neighbors, daughters, sons, fathers, mothers, and teammates, we can be a “force for good.” We can positively effect the communities in which we live.

“Leave no trace”

One of my favorite pastimes is backpacking. I love being out in the middle of “nowhere,” and the solitude that comes with it. There’s something very empowering about hiking two to three days into the wilderness, and knowing that it’s all on you; everything you need, from your water to your food, to your shelter, and even your first aid. You are solely responsible for taking care of yourself and getting yourself back out again.

You’re also responsible for packing out everything you took in.

Being completely surrounded by the sounds and smells of the mountains is an amazingly refreshing and rejuvenating break from the noisy hustle and bustle of our suburban existence. Even though there’s always a hint along the way of those who’ve come before, i.e. the trail, campsites, fire rings, there’s not much other evidence of fellow hikers. A large part of the ambience of the wilderness is this absence of human debris, and it’s a disheartening distraction when you come upon somebody’s discarded granola bar wrapper. Part of the ethic of backpacking is cleaning up after yourself, so that those who come after can enjoy the same “pristine” feel that nature has to offer. In backpacking we say,“Pack it in, pack it out.”

What’s in it for me?

There’s more to be learned from cleaning our rooms than a basic civics lesson. It also helps us develop the habit of holding ourselves accountable. For example, instead of a messy room, let’s say a person finds themselves a mess. They haven’t taken good care of themselves for a couple decades. They’re out of shape, overweight, have terrible eating habits, and along with the onset of middle age, they find out they’ve got high blood pressure and pre-diabetes.

Many folks find themselves in such a predicament and blame a plethora of external factors for their fate. Not only do they point the finger in every direction imaginable to lay blame, but they also sit around, waiting for somebody else to fix the problem. They never learned the lesson behind cleaning their own room. Because of this, they will never be able to achieve any level of success.

People who learn to clean their own room learn to take care of their own affairs. They learn to take responsibility for their actions. They acknowledge the mess they’ve created, and take steps to fix it. In the event they inherit a messy room not of their own doing, they don’t waste time pointing fingers. They get busy cleaning up the mess.

How clean is your “room?”

See you on the mats.