There is a gospel singer I listened to when I was young, who expressed his life motto, oh way back in the 1990’s. I believe he got it from his Pentacostal preacher father. He said, “Do the next right thing.” Apparently the saying has been a widely used phrase for a very long time. Martin Luther King Jr., Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, who knows who originated the words? The Stoics probably mentioned it 2,000 years ago. (http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2016/09/ancient-wisdom/)
It seems wise on its face. You know, better than, “Do the next dirty, rotten, scandalous thing you can think of.” I have a little issue with this saying because sometimes the next right thing, isn’t MY thing. I believe it is easy to get down a track of doing the wrong “right” stuff. Okay, I’ll admit it, I have caused some major problems in my life while trying to “do the right thing.” Basically, the right thing is not always going to be the conventional, suitable, standard, or holy thing, so to speak. It may be, but it might not.
Each of us has to measure our steps according to the time and space we find ourselves in. I’d guess many miss the point because I have been given some very bad conventional advice over the last year that I’ve had to fight off in my head. My favorite friends give me advice then say, “Oh hell, don’t listen to me, I haven’t been where you are.” Ideas and suggestions are great, but I have to make the final decisions, and live with the consequences. I caught up a little bit on this singer’s life and I believe he eventually came to the same conclusions as I have. Beautiful booming voice was also a functioning alcoholic for many years. He is doing well now! His wife writes a clever blog at www.babybloomr.com. They have been married for 38 years and she said on her first page, “it’s hard for me to say that with a straight face.”
Although it’s totally gross if you think about it, I like the elephant saying better. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” To me the elephant analogy makes us define it first. What is the big picture purpose for the things I need to do next? What are my physical and emotional needs that must be met while facing this elephant? What confusion has this elephant caused in my spirit?
I like Ralph Waldo Emerson’s thought during the elephant meal:
“To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom…” Meaning, it’s not just finishing this elephant that is important, but how I do so. That life doesn’t begin when the elephant is gone, but is led while eating. (Ugh, still gross.) Some say “life is a journey,” which is true, but isn’t it also the moments? The present day? The little things?
I love Thomas Merton, the Trappist Monk and writer. He speaks about the characteristics of present living. I haven’t read the whole book, so I’m not sure, but it seems to me that “drastic change,” suits the elephant analogy.
“In a time of drastic change one can be too preoccupied with what is ending or too obsessed with what seems to be beginning. In either case one loses touch with the present and with its obscure but dynamic possibilities. What really matters is openness, readiness, attention, courage to face risk. You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope. In such an event, courage is the authentic form taken by love.” (Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)
Such encouragement! “Openness, readiness, attention, courage, faith, hope.” Seems more do-able than doing “the next right thing.” I’ll admit, I can’t always tell what that is anyway. Meanwhile, I think I’ll go catch up on the healing journey of the Taff family.