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Rule No. 1

A long time ago, I figured out that when I don't know what to do or what would be best, I needed a rule to follow. What is it? ALWAYS, wherever I am, whoever I'm with, do what I like myself best for doing. I am, after all, the only person with whom I absolutely have to live. I confess I don't always follow this rule. I wish I did. I certainly want to, and I do my faulty best, but I don't always succeed. I'm human. I know it, and I don't ever want to fool myself about that.

Nevertheless, following the rule tells me what I need to do, and therefore it has deep personal value. Examples? One is that I speak out. Unfortunately, sometimes people are offended. Others are fearful that I might offend and therefore think I shouldn't speak. But I feel good about myself for speaking, particularly when I think speaking out might help people or situations, and so I am willing to suffer the consequences, because to me the worst consequence is me not liking myself.

Possibly I've developed several reputations. One is that I show courage and integrity in speaking out for what I believe is right, even though others condemn me. Another reputation may be that I'm an ignorant hothead who should be avoided, ignored or persecuted. This latter reputation is painful, believe me. No one likes to be disliked.

My mother shared one of her own sayings with me when I was 13, and it has given me freedom. It was: Only I have the power to let others judge me. This saying eventually led me to figuring out my personal rule No. 1. Since I am the only person with whom I absolutely have to live, what is the best thing for me to do in any given moment? Why, what I like myself best for doing!

Everyone has their own rule No. 1. Each person has to figure out what to do. Some have a personal rule No. 1 that asks, "What will benefit me most personally?" Others ask, "What will take the least effort?" Or, "What will be the most fun?" "What can I get away with?" Or, "What is the least scary or painful thing I can do?" And still others ask, "What can I do to make others happy?"

We all answer these questions by how we live our lives, what we say and what we do. For example, I recently read about one man savagely beating up another in Medford's Hawthorne Park, while strangers watched, doing nothing. A few days before that, I read about a 41-year-old woman in Medford who found a burglar in her bedroom when she came home from work late at night. She fought the burglar until he surrendered and the police came.

Clearly, each of these people has a different rule No. 1, but I'll give you a guess about that woman. I'm guessing her personal rule No. 1 has given her a very good and well deserved feeling about herself. Is your rule No. 1 giving you a good feeling about yourself? When you see yourself in the mirror, are you proud to be you? You are human, faulty, but nevertheless someone who has earned your own self-respect? Someone who is honest and committed to looking at yourself? Someone willing to speak out or take action when something wrong is happening?

If your answer to these questions is "yes," I'd say you're doing something very, very right. Remember, we are all human. We all make mistakes and we each have to have something to guide us. If my own rule No. 1 will work for you, please take it. It'll cost you, but it's worth it, and I suspect our world might be a far better place if everyone has this rule as their own personal rule number one. Always, wherever you are, whoever you're with, do what you like yourself best for doing.

Bruce Harrell, a semi-retired lawyer and a Judge Pro Tem in the Jackson County Circuit Court, Small Claims Division. E-mail: bbh@mind.net.

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