my notes from a toastmaster's talk i gave titled FAMILY MANTRAS.
delivered august 6th, 2014
you can do better.
this was the phrase i heard more growing up in my home than any other.
the words came from my mother. and the words came often.
if i brought home a C. you can do better.
if i brought home a B. you can do better.
if i brought home an A, well, there was always an A+.
I DON'T MEAN TO IMPLY this phrase was purely about grades as it could easily be applied to anything
how many driveways i shoveled snow from or
how many hours i played outside on a nice summer day or
how much effort i took in getting ready for the dance.
you can do better was magically versatile in this regard.
NOW SOME PEOPLE would be put out by this. hurt. injured. maybe even resentful. but not me.
because i knew my mom was right. my mom knew she was right.
and when everyone in the room believes what is being said is right, no matter how positive or jarring
the message just kinda gets repeated by the one giving it and shouldered by the one taking it.
THESE WORDS CHASED me after i left home,
ringing in my ears when i'd break from my school work or wrap up a work project.
THEN ONE NIGHT, for reasons i can't explain,
and after decades of hearing these same four words,
i, for the first time in my life, took the advice.
I REMEMBER THE MOMENT WELL.
i remember the desk i was sitting at.
i remember the assignment i was working on.
an essay on d.h. lawrence's short story 'the rocking horse winner'.
i remember closing the book saying it was enough.
then the words. you can do better.
AGAIN, FOR REASONS I CAN'T RECALL, i reopened the book
and worked into the middle hours of the night.
i worked until i knew it was my best.
when the paper came back,
below the A+ in the upper right corner was the word OUTSTANDING.
my 1st 'outstanding' ever.
this experience proved life-changing.
IN TIME I LEARNED how and when to turn my 'better' on.
if you're wondering if those words still float through my head, they do.
and they still carry my mother's knowing tenor and firm cadence
"you can do better".
FAMILY MANTRAS ------------------------------
AS I GOT OLDER and stepped further into the world
and met more and more people
i wondered if they too had a phrase etched into their mind like i did.
SO I MADE A PRACTICE of asking people about these phrases,
phrases i call family mantras.
and i began collecting them like some people collect state shot glasses or stamps.
I NOW HAVE QUITE A COLLECTION of them
and when you study them en masse you begin seeing patterns and commonalities.
like the POSITIVE ones.
+ associate with winners
+ go all in
+ always be kind
or the COMMANDING ones
+ winners don't whine
+ always be early
+ own your decisions
or the CURIOUS ones
+ every man for themselves
+ act first, think later
+ nothing permanent
this nothing permanent has always been one of my favorites
both for its simplicity and exactitude.
want a mohawk. go for it.
funny pants. no problem.
listen to satanic ska. turn it up.
but while you live here, no tattoos, no criminal record, no vd, no babies.
MY MANTRA ------------------------------
NOW OBVIOUSLY PEOPLE ASK ME about my home's mantra.
you would think this would be an easy question to answer but it is not.
the problem is my wife and i don't agree on a mantra.
in fact, my wife kinda doesn't believe in mantras at all.
her problem is wether you agree with them or not, most people live by a certain code
and if you study someone long enough, their code becomes apparent.
LAST CHRISTMAS i gave my wife her family mantra set in type
and showcased in an ornate frame.
it read "make it happen".
"make it happen" is the advice she gives most often gives to crying, struggling, and/or frustrated children.
(she's uttered those words to the occassional crying, struggling, and/or frustrated adult as well).
MY MANTRA, UNSURPRISINGLY, is a little more manufactured and thought through
as it is something i've considered for many years,
THE THING I SAY to my kids most,
is "welcome to another beautiful day on planet earth" which is what i try to say to them every morning,
the thing i say to my kids 2nd most is my family mantra, "DO GOOD".
i like DO GOOD for its brevity and its duplicitous meaning as in
"do good at what you do" as well as
"choose to do good things".
OF COURSE MY FAMILY SEEMS NUMB to my calls of do good
as we part ways, me giving them a kiss on the forehead, before uttering my DO GOOD.
BUT I'M HOPEFUL AND CONFIDENT the message is
working its way into the marrow the way my mother's message did for me.
i'm also hopeful it will one day prove as life-changing for them as mine did for me.
SO WHAT WAS YOUR mantra growing up?
and what is the mantra, or the closest thing to it, you live by now?
or, for the younger ones among us, what will your home's mantra be when your time comes to raise and guide children?
whatever it may be i hope you 'do good' and i hope you 'make it happen'.