Self-respect comes from fixing and improving things

Fixing things

My petrol lawnmower had packed up. It would start up, then splutter to an immediate stop. I don’t know anything about motors, so was at a loss, and it sat there in the garden, with the grass growing up around it. I looked up the manual on the internet, but without luck. I looked up lawnmower repair centres, but there was nothing nearby. I went to B&Q, thinking about buying a replacement. Sixty, seventy pounds.

Then, one evening, I went for a curry with a friend. I mentioned the dead lawnmower (the conversation wasn’t flowing, perhaps) and was told it was probably the carburettor; that maybe it had got clogged up. If I removed the second of the two screws at the bottom, it would drain off the muck and should put it right.

I tried this the next morning, and, sure enough, the lawnmower spluttered back into life. I immediately set about mowing the overgrown grass.

This was not a major thing, but as I looked out of the window afterwards at the neatly cut lawn, I felt a small but significant sense of triumph.

There is some satisfaction in getting on top of a problem that has been hanging over you from some time, especially something as practical as fixing the lawn mower – which gives such visible results. It gives you a sense that you have some control over things.

If you do not keep on top of these relatively trivial things, they will pile up and get on top of you, and this will dent your sense of self-respect.

Improving things

It is not just about fixing things, of course, not just about keeping on top of things. Self-respect comes from finding ways in which you can change things for the better.

It is about pushing ahead, finding ways in which you can use your knowledge, skills and strengths to make the world around you a better place.

“Agir aujourd’hui pour mieux vivre demain.”* Green slogan on a Carrefour supermarket carrier bag

*‘Do things today that will make life better tomorrow’

You need to:

  • identify something that could be improved
  • decide whether it is feasible to do it
  • and whether you are the person to do it
  • work out how to do it

The gauge will be whether or not this would make the world a better place – where ‘better’ means that the potential benefits outweigh the likely costs. This may be subjective, and we might debate how to define benefits and costs – but it is not enriching yourself at the expense of other people, and it is not about sacrificing your self-respect for the benefit of others. These would suggest moving costs and benefits from one person to another, they would not ‘add value’.

We want to make the world a safer, smarter, richer, more comfortable, more beautiful, inspiring place.

“It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something.” Winston Churchill

If you spend your life doing everything you can to make things better, then, when your time is up, you will be able to say with confidence that you have done your best to leave the world a better place than you found it.

This is the one thing we want to be able to say on our deathbed.

“To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Published by Peter Runkel

Being quite reserved, I have always been interested in those people at the other end of the spectrum - the ones with an unswerving self-belief, sometimes apparently quite out of proportion to their abilities. I wanted to be like them - their lives seemed so much easier by comparison. Now, having thought about it, I’m not so sure I do. I think they have also got it wrong, just in the equal and opposite way. And it's actually about finding some sort of balance.

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