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THE VIEW FROM PAEONIAN SPRINGS
Be The Best That You Can Be...
Given all of our choices, it's probably the best.

by Michael H. Thomson
July 5, 2006

Brooks Gardner, a writer with The Partial Observer recently made a comment and raised a question, to paraphrase, Brooks said this is a great country, but what can we do to make it better? The simplicity of the comment and the profoundness of the question definitely beg an answer.
 
My answer comes from my years working as a recruiter with the Army National Guard and is actually borrowed from the old Army recruiting slogan: "Be All That You Can Be!" Actually, the Army most likely borrowed this from Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs – the slogan reflects the fifth and ultimate level of need fulfillment - Self-actualization. I've changed it to Be The Best That You Can Be! 
 
The reason that people all over the world try to get into this country legally or otherwise is that the United States is one of the very few places on this planet where a person can freely "be the best that they can be."
 
I wake in the morning to news from the BBC in London. The only reason I listen to this left slanted, anti-American newscast is that on the BBC a person gets news that you can't get anywhere else. Knowing the BBC's bias ahead of time, I sift through their commentaries and come up with a daily balanced perspective on what's happening in the world we populate. Nevertheless, you can't leave a BBC broadcast without thinking that the world blames the U.S. for every problem imaginable.
 
And, do you know what? They do. Then again, I cannot remember a time in my sixty-one years that the world didn't blame the U.S. for its problems. Nevertheless, despite our critics, we as a nation have persevered. Despite our failures, setbacks, and roadblocks, collectively as a people, we have sought to be "the best that we can be."
 
Ronald Reagan at one time was one of the most caricatured leaders on the world stage. Ignoring his critics Reagan did what he felt was necessary to defeat the scourge of communism. With his talents, showmanship, and character, Reagan's efforts freed millions of people from oppression. He stuck to his guns like the western cowboys in his movies, outspent the communists in the Eastern Bloc, and caused their governments to collapse on themselves. A man who some would say was past his prime, made the world a better place because he sought to "be the best that he could be."
 
Sam Houston had a reputation as a drunk, a failed husband, and a disgraced governor of Tennessee. Surpassing the pull of his personal devils, Houston became a liberator, the president of a republic, a governor of Texas, and a U.S. senator. He became "the best that he could be."
 
Billy Graham survived the naivety of youth, brushes with scandal because of anti-Semitic comments taped by Nixon, and the ravages of illness, and age. Learning and improving every step of his way, Billy Graham influenced and has become a positive instrument for change in millions of lives. He could have ended up in mediocrity. He chose not to do so. He became "the best that he could be."
 
Do Van Khoai, a Vietnamese refugee, survived war, hardship, camps, and disease, and raised a family that has significantly increased his adopted country's collective productivity. Khoai, even at advanced age has always sought to be "the best that he can be." See The Story of Do Van Khoai
 
A friend of mine works in the aerospace industry as an engineer. She has had a successful career. A few years ago, my friend was stricken with blindness. Most of her successes have come SINCE the onset of blindness. She is a successful songwriter, instrumentalist, and IT professional. My friend who recently completed her first sky dive constantly seeks to be "the best that she can be."
 
In Dupont Circle in Washington D.C., there is a statue of American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow is probably best known for his poem, Hiawatha. My favorite Longfellow poem, however, is The Psalm of Life. I think the best answer to Brooks Gardner's question cited above would be to reproduce Longfellow's poem:
 
 

       The Psalm of Life

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, - act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
 
In other words, be the best that you can be. Thank you Brooks Gardner, for the contemplative fodder.
 
                                                           
 


About the Author:
Mike thinks The Psalm of Life would be a great morning mantra for everyone.


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