What I do believe
Sometimes, as an atheist (I still hate that word, I still hate that word), you begin to feel wrapped up in what you are NOT. What you do not believe. Thoughts you reject. Habits you do not keep. Traditions you do not observe.
I’m sure this is far from an original thought in the world of atheism, but I’m feeling the need to express what I DO believe in. And that’s my job to convey to my kids, right? As the country song goes (apologies to whoever’s it is), you’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything. And I don’t want them to fall into something as adults in order to fill some perceived void. I am convinced that it is possible to be ethical, to be principled, to be moral without religion.
Everything I learned of right and wrong as a kid was backed by the expectations reportedly carved on a pair of stone tablets or by Bible stories. They were good teaching tools, no doubt. And they were taught by my parents who, to toot their horns and not mine, did an extraordinary job of raising four girls who do right.
Today, I’m trying to figure out how to impart those lessons in a different way with, hopefully, the same results. The tricky part is that there’s no “hammer” in doing it this way. There are no sins to commit, no hell to fear, no thoughts to regret. It’s trickier to teach that one should be good simply for goodness’ sake.
Admittedly, I have almost no idea what I’m doing here when it comes to leading little lives, but I want to be courageous enough to forge on anyway, backed by faith in humanity and the determination that my children become good adults.
So, in that spirit, here are 12 beliefs I hold dear and intend to impart to our kids:
That people are basically good – Anne Frank said it best. Most people are decent and well-meaning. With several exceptions in history and in the current world, almost no one is wholly bad. In daily life, the truth of any two-sided situation is usually somewhere in the middle and the job is to find the compromise.
That life is amazing and precious – It truly is. Life in all its varieties – human, animal and plant – is something to be treasured and marveled at. I may not believe that it’s all here due to some grand, intentional design, but I’m nevertheless awed at its complexity and beauty.
That everyone deserves equal rights and respect – We don’t judge people based on anything but their character and we don’t attempt to tell anyone how to live their lives. We all deserve fundamental human rights.
That life is bittersweet – Times will be tough and times will fill you with joy. Don’t fight it – there is such beauty in that spectrum. Just strive to make the latter far outpace the former.
That it’s best to be honest – Life is so much easier when you are. You feel better and, being someone who can be trusted, you trust yourself and your character.
That you should be generous – Give money to charity. Give $10 to the homeless man on the corner without wondering what he’ll do with it later. Give time to charitable causes.
That you should be proud of your country – I well up at patriotic songs just like anyone else and I sincerely love this country. We are not faultless in world affairs or at home, but we are lucky to be Americans.
That you should be a loyal friend – Step up when people need you. Be there to talk about the big stuff and the little stuff. If you have found a good and true friend, ignore what others think of them. Let gossip die with you.
That hard work is satisfying – Give the best of yourself to your work and never settle for doing a passable job. Someone told me there are “hiders” and “seekers” in professional situations – always strive to be the seeker looking for new tasks and better ways to do things. When you see a problem coming down the road, cut it off at the pass.
That you should spit-shine your character – Don’t take stuff you didn’t earn. Don’t take shortcuts. Do the right thing even if no one will know. And, if they will know, resist taking credit.
That one should simply admit to a mistake – Don’t blame. Don’t make excuses. Apologize, set it right and do better next time.
That kindness and a smile take you really far – In my early 20s, I reveled in being brooding and pseudo-complex. I rarely smiled and opened myself up. Thankfully that has softened with age. It sounds trite, but the power of a genuine smile to brighten someone’s day is transformative. Show some teeth and watch other peoples’ faces – it works.
While not an exhaustive list, these are enough for now. After all, I have the rest of my life to preach these and other virtues to my kids. So much so that – fingers crossed – they’ll hear my harping voice even when I’m long gone.