Leaving things better than we found them

One of the life lessons I learned from working with youth and young adults over the last 20 plus years is the idea of “leaving things better than we found them.” This is not an original idea. In fact, the original full quote itself was coined by Robert Baden-Powell (from 1941 message) as part of the Scouting movement (see info at https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Robert_Baden-Powell). Baden-Powell’s quote “Leave this world a little better than you found it,” has found a place in various subject matter. Anywhere from spirituality to business to sports, it seems to be quite applicable and relevant.

What I like most about this quote is not only does it apply to the physical environment around us (i.e., nature, rooms, picking up after ourselves), but it also applies to how we leave people behind. It is this idea of leaving an imprint on others that makes them better individuals that I embrace most when it comes to the work I do, including writing or counseling. When working with my students during the summer residential programs, for example, I remind them to thank people who help them or serve them. I also remind them to ask for permission and be polite. Good manners have always gone a long way for me, and I expect no less from the teens and young adults I work with during these summer programs.

These simple acts of good manners somehow leave things better than when the students found them. How so? The staff working in dining halls feel appreciated because my students clean up after themselves and thank the staff for serving food to them. The staff feels appreciated and loves the fact that someone has seen the hard work they do for others. They have been shown gratitude and that makes people feel good… a little better than their day may have started out. By simply saying “please” and “thank you” or even “excuse me sir/ma’am,” someone’s attitude or demeanor can change. Politeness and civility is not dead, and “minding our P’s and Q’s” is still relevant today in all areas of life. These simple acts of good manners and being grateful for what others do for us is a way of leaving people better than how we found them.

In my book series, The Last Prophet, the concept of leaving things better than we found them is reiterated in all three of the currently published books, and soon the last two. The main character in The Last Prophet book series stresses the need for us to take care of one another and to take care of this world we are given. The series itself talks about how selfishness and greed are acts that do not leave the world a better place, and neither do these acts demonstrate the love we are to share with one another. We are called to be better than we started. We start in this life as a blank page or a blank canvas, but we are meant to become poetry in motion or a masterpiece, and all with the intention of making the world better than when we first arrived.

Just as Baden-Powell emphasized in his quote, we are called to perform a certain task or behave a certain way that makes life better for all. It may not be stated outright, but it does not need to be. When we sit and listen to someone pour out their sorrows, or share in someone’s joy from a well-deserved  reward, or pulling aside a friend who strayed from doing the right thing and taking time to knock some sense into them – all these actions add up to leaving the world a little better than when we first entered it. We are leaving this life better for future generations. We are paying it forward, if you will. We are being good stewards of the life and the world we have been given.

Are you leaving things better than how you found them? How have others left you better than they found you? Please comment in the space provided.

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