In the Otemachi train station in central Tokyo, several subway lines converge. Trains pull up to the platform with hundreds of passengers who are rushing to work. There is one escalator that takes passengers up a 5-story rise to street level.
When I first saw this escalator, I assumed that there would be a mad crush for the front of the line, as people jockeyed for position to get up the escalator. But instead of running to the front, people run to the back, and get in line. The line is sometimes 50 yards long. But everyone waits their turn. The entire line moves at walking pace to the escalator. Everyone wins.
There are no signs, no instructions, and no one controls the line. It just happens, every day.
I do a lot of driving. 40,000 miles a year or so. So I get to watch a lot of things on the road. One of the things that I see is a lot of trash. Our trash. I know it is our trash, because I see us throwing it out of our car windows.
Why does anyone think that it is ok to do that?
And it isn’t just in cars, either. I walk my dog a lot, too. Not 40,000 miles a year, but a lot of miles. And the cigarette smokers on my street don’t seem to mind leaving their cigarette butts on the street.
I don’t care whether something is biodegradable or not. Here is my rule of thumb- if I won’t throw it on my kitchen floor, I won’t throw it on the street.
What’s so difficult to understand about that?
I am reading a lot right now about the Bill of Rights. People are complaining about Their Rights. I don’t hear people talking so much about their responsibilities.
So let me talk about my responsibilities.
I am a husband. I married my best friend. When we got married, Theresa and I took a set of vows. Those vows included statements like “til death do us part”, and “in sickness and in health”. I learned that Theresa meant those vows when she took them. She still means them.
So do I.
I read someplace that the sign of a really good marriage is when both partners feel like they got the better end of the deal. Trust me, I got the better end of the deal. If you know both of us, you know that to be true.
That means if she asks me to do something, I do it. We try to divide all of the chores and tasks. She takes care of food shopping and bills, so I take care of the cars and trash. It’s mundane stuff, but we take care of it, so that we can take care of each other, and ourselves.
My hope is that we get to spend the rest of our lives together, hopefully in good health. It means forever. And it also means a lot of Golden Rule stuff at home.
I am a father of two beautiful young women. Very expensive, but very beautiful.
I made a couple of promises when they were born. Something along the lines of “God, if you just get us through this delivery safe and sound, I promise I will take care of this little urchin the best that I can, for as long as I can”.
So my end of the bargain is that I think I am supposed to take care of these little urchins. That means I deal with iPhones dropped in the toilet, and iPhones dropped off of third story ledges. It means volleyball tuition and college tuition. It means that one bathroom looks like a cosmetics factory. It means 6000 diapers apiece, and all the Father-Daughter Dances I can attend.
It means that if either of them is so motivated to have a dog that they create a Powerpoint presentation entitled “Why We Should Have A Dog”, then……
I have a dog. Although it would be more accurate to say that Darwin has a family. That means hundreds of night-time walks in the snow and the cold, when I don’t want to go outside. It means cleaning up dog poop, and licenses, and vaccinations, and all of the responsibilities I would want someone else to take care of, if I was him. It means baths and brushing and toys and playtime and all of the stuff he needs us to do.
I am a family member. That means that I am supposed to participate in my family. I am supposed to show up, anytime, anywhere that I am asked. It means weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, Communions and Baptisms, Passovers and Christmas Eve’s (it’s complicated). It means birthday parties and wakes and funerals and all of the stuff that goes on with people that I love and care about.
It means that not only do I show up….it means that I try to show up with a smile.
And maybe even shave.
I am an employee. I have a job. A company pays me to work. That means that I am supposed to work. If possible, I am supposed to do such good work, that my company thinks that they got the better end of the deal.
I should show up every day. Every day. No “calling out sick”.
I should remember how insanely lucky I am to have this gig, or any gig at all. I am insanely lucky that I get paid to do interesting, important work, with interesting and incredibly intelligent people. There are some days I can’t believe that anyone pays me to do this. I need to act that way every day.
I work with other people. Really nice people, by the way. That means I am supposed to work well with them. I should try to treat them with dignity and respect, the same way that they treat me.
I should ask about their families, and their dogs and cats. I should ask about their vacations, and their holidays, and their traditions.
I am a taxpayer. You may not like what I have to say here.
I pay a lot of taxes. My wife and I make a lot of money, so we pay a lot of taxes. More than six figures a year. By the end of our working lives, we will pay millions of dollars in taxes.
And I would be glad to pay even more.
You know why I would be glad to pay more? Because I live in a time and a place where a poor kid from Northeast Philadelphia can receive a great education (both the kind you get in school, and the kind you get at the kitchen table), and grow up to be incredibly lucky. I am safe and well fed and educated and gainfully employed.
I use public roads, public water, public sewer, public electricity, public telephone systems, public gas works. I am the beneficiary of a lot of infrastructure that is freely, or inexpensively, available to me.
My children attend(ed) public schools. Great schools. The best schools in the nation. The real estate taxes that we pay to support those schools is a bargain. Let me be really specific about this. Our school system has been ranked the number 1 school system in the country by two different organizations in the last three months. If you doubled my real estate taxes, to pay for these schools, I would not complain. It’s a bargain.
In a time and a place where it is fashionable to complain about high taxes, let me be provocative.
I’m willing to pay more.
I am a citizen. That means that I should participate. I vote, every time. I try to stay informed. When I know someone who is running for office, I support them. I read. I communicate with like-minded citizens.
The people in my community who hold elected office do so out of their love for their community. Some of the jobs are totally volunteer. I applaud them for that. Our lives are better for their service.
I have the opportunity to leave this country 5-10 times a year, for work and for pleasure. Every time I leave, I learn a little bit more how lucky I am to live here. I may complain a lot- but I am lucky to be here.
I am a homeowner and a community member. That means that I should take care of my home, and my community. My lawn should be mowed, my snow should be shoveled. My trash should go into the special trash cans that we are supposed to use. I apply for permits for the work that I am supposed to apply for.
When someone organizes something in our community, I try to participate. That means candy on Halloween, and putting up luminaries on Christmas Eve.
I am a member of several service organizations. That means that I should help. When someone reaches out for help, I do my best to do what is needed. That involves attending meetings, and taking notes, and making telephone calls, and serving meals, and donating money.
These are organizations that helped me, helped my profession and my community, and helped people I know. It is the least that I can do to repay the favor.
I have a body. That means that I should try to take care of it. That means eating right, and lots of exercise, and plenty of rest. I’m a vegetarian, and I exercise rigorously at least 4 times a week. No less than 6 hours of sleep a night, and a couple of times a week I need 8 hours of sleep. I don’t apologize for that.
I need to take care of my body if I am going to be responsible for all of the other responsibilities I have.
We have an expression in our culture, “What’s In It For Me?” In short, “WIIFM”. I’ve used it.
As I grow older, I’ve started asking a different question: What Is Expected Of Me? Or “WIEOM”.
It’s the difference between the Bill of Rights and The Bill of Responsibilities.
It’s the difference between selfishness and selflessness.
What is expected of me? A couple of quotes provide good answers. In Luke 12:48: “For unto whoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” Much has been given to me, and I think it is time that much should be required of me. As someone I know used to say, “I am reporting for duty!”
I have a responsibility to provide for my family, my community, my country and my workplace. I am grateful for that responsibility. I know people who don’t have those responsibilities, and they wish that they did.
What is expected of me?