Life and Health

The First Principle (UU Series #2)

I wrote last week introducing this series on the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism (UU).  For the next seven weeks I’m going to be highlighting one of the principles and talking about how it impacts my life, parenting, and work.

The first principle is “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

While I have always “believed” in this idea; being a member of the UU congregation has forced me to confront what this actually means and what am I doing to PRACTICE this.

This is the crux of all the UU principles: what are you doing to practice them?  It is not enough just to believe them; you must act on them in some way. This seems to stem from the humanist teachings; there is nothing that states you can’t believe in an afterlife but you also must work for the good of this life.

Some of the ways that I have practiced this principle:

  • I try to see everyone as an individual with their own stories.  I try not to generalize; I like (or don’t like) someone based entirely on their own personalities and my interactions with them.  I don’t have to like everyone I come across in my life but I try to at least view them as a unique person instead of lumping them into some category.  This is especially important when dealing with my students at work; each teenager comes with their own baggage. A lot of times it’s the same baggage wrapped up with a different bow but they want to know you’re listening to them and their stories.  Teenagers also want to know that even when they screw up today, you’re still there for them tomorrow because they will screw up. Some of them want to know how long it’ll take to push you away so they can add you to the long list in their heads of who has “abandoned” them and some of them want to push boundaries just to see how much you care.  Being cognizant of the fact that each of them wants to be treated as an individual while also trying to make them not feel alone is an important part of my job as a teacher.
  • With the Munchkin, it may be my job to be her parent but it is not my job to control and assimilate her into what I want her to be.  A beautiful poem by Khalil Gibran sums it up: 

“You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.”

As the Munchkin makes her way through this world, it is my job to allow her to be who SHE is as a magical (and sometimes frustrating) combination of her father and I.  She carries both of us inside her and has wound them together into a new and fabulous creation that I have to trust and allow her to be.

  • I try to be patient with people.  I understand that we are living in a stressed out world, some of which is our own making, some of which is caused by things outside of our control.  When we are stressed we definitely don’t make the right decisions or behave considerately to everyone else who doesn’t seem to be as stressed as we are or can’t automatically “get it” (maybe mind-reading technology will fix this?). I remember one time when my father was sick, he had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and I was trying to get all the ingredients for Easter dinner at the grocery store.  I must have dropped the coupon for a free ham in the grocery store somewhere and couldn’t find it. I knew this would probably be the last Easter my father would experience (and I didn’t have enough money on me to pay for the ham) and I fought with the customer service person. She, at first, held her ground because the accounts got mixed up and the account I had given her didn’t show enough credits for a free ham; but I think she sensed my frustration and stress so she ultimately relented.  I was grateful and ended up sending a note to the store thanking her for her kindness in my time of need. That moment has crystalized in my brain showing that not everyone has their shit together all the time. If I have my shit together at that particular moment I can extend some grace to a person who might not; the way it was shown to me that day.

With the holiday season coming up, this is most often experienced while standing in line waiting to check out somewhere.  Retail workers are almost always getting yelled at by someone during “the happiest time of the year”. Especially when the registers go down or there’s a long line and people aren’t being helped as quickly as they’d like (because everyone’s time is more important than everyone else’s).  While I’m standing in line I count all the reasons I am grateful: I have the ability to stand in this line and purchase whatever it is I am holding, I am able to keep a roof over my daughter’s head and food in her stomach. I am able to be home with her at night and on weekends, I am able to read her stories, etc… the list goes on and on.  For this reason, one of my new mantras has become “if this is the worst thing that happens to me today, I’m doing okay” because there are plenty of other things that could happen to me or be happening to me that would make life much worse.

This principle has forced my to also confront my guilt and shame about being in a position where my family and I are doing okay whereas there are others who are not.  There are others who are struggling with any number of problems and I feel paralyzed by the sheer amount of struggle in what is supposed to be the best country in the world.  As I said in the post that introduced this series, if my parents ever stressed about providing for my brother and I, I never knew it. My mother still lives in the home I grew up in, we didn’t move or transfer schools EVER; I experienced comfort and stability that is rarely seen.  

This principle has caused me to rumble (to borrow Brene Brown’s terminology) with that lack of struggle and level of privilege.  I am still working on putting that rumble into practice but I have taken the step to educate myself about people who have not had the same.  Reading books like “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah, “Small Great Things” by Jodi Picoult, “Hillbilly Elegy” by JD Vance, “Educated” by Tara Westover, and many more (coincidentally most of which have been because of my church book club) have helped me step outside this world of comfort and privilege to see the other side of the story.  I am still struggling with being a good ally when I feel so outside my element but the first principle forces me to keep trying, keep pushing, and not giving up on learning more, being more, and doing more.

This principle has helped me combat my judgmental self, both the judgement I feel towards myself and the judgement I feel towards others.  This principle has made me look at the ownership versus belonging idea that I wrote about a couple months ago. This principle has forced me to look at myself, see how I may view “the other” and combat that mentality.  While I never thought of people as “others” consciously; I have had to look at unconscious and subtle behaviors in myself. I hope that, while I may screw up, people at least can see that I am trying to live by this principle and as the years go on, I get better and better at it.

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