“Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.” — Thomas Jefferson
Do you remember the John Grisham novel, The Firm, where the husband and wife were having to write notes to each other rather than speak out loud in their house? Their home had been bugged, and everything they said could be overheard by the bad guys. What if we had to communicate only in writing for fear of being overheard? I would be sad to not use my hands, since I talk with my them, that’s what! What if everything we said and did were seen by someone else? What if I told you that it already is?
With regular news reports of how men and women have misbehaved when they are in private, you would think we would all be more mindful of our behavior in front of and away from the public eye. Most of us value our privacy, thank goodness for curtains, but what if our closet were the only place safe from prying eyes? Would you still dance in front of the mirror or risk cleaning your nose without a tissue? You might think that you actions are unseen and therefore no one else’s business, but I think it would feel somewhat like when I am at a traffic light singing at the top of my lungs to the song on the radio only to realize that the driver of the car beside me has watched the whole show. We should do things ‘as if all the world were watching’ because, in fact, the world is watching, even when we think they are not.
The world has watched videos of people looting after having been morally outraged by some event. ‘Morally’ seems a contradictory term considering their choices, yet those looting say they feel they have the right–to steal from someone else who has worked hard to make a living–to somehow right a wrong. Burglars break into homes and steal, too, but surely they wouldn’t say they feel morally entitled to those items. It’s so easy to name the crimes that outrage us, but what about similar crimes that we seek to justify? No one needed those ink pens. They’ll never miss a few packs of paper towels. I’ve worked hard, why shouldn’t I let the company pick up the tab on those extra meals or miles? Small indiscretions seem to propel individuals with just a little power.
Something happens when people find themselves with power. Somewhere along the line, good people begin making bad choices, believing that no one will ever know. That, though, is where they are wrong. When I took the Pez dispenser from the department store at five years old, I knew what I did was wrong and apologized through a flood of sobs. My parents might not have seen, but they figured it out quickly. When two different elementary PTA officers were convicted of embezzling several thousands of dollars, I have to believe they knew their actions were wrong. They thought no one saw, but there is always someone who will hold a person accountable whether or not they see the action when it takes place. When, in a moment of frustration a grandmother killed her grandchild recently, she apparently knew it was wrong since she then tried to kill herself. No one had to see her actions to discover her misuse of power. There are those who do not regret their actions, only regretting being caught, but most people seem to genuinely wish they hadn’t made such poor choices.
Our choices label us, don’t you think? How are you labeling yourself? When I write, I always have the intention of encouraging and even challenging the reader to be better than they are. So, the question to ask yourself in this case is: How would I speak, act and live differently if I knew that there was always someone watching?
If you knew someone would see you…
- take a copy of a test
- leave less tip than you know you should
- do your job with minimal effort
- speak maliciously about another person
- yell at your aging parent
- take a snack from the honor system basket without leaving money
- treat a step-child as if they weren’t family
Would you make different choices? Whether you have strong morals because of a religious background or you simply agree with following the behaviors society has deemed appropriate, choosing to think before you act will make all the difference, whether anyone is watching you or not.
Right now, think about what you are doing. If someone else were watching, would you act differently? Should you act differently? The world is waiting to tear you apart when you fall, so why not make the choice to behave in a way that leaves you free to stand on the truth? As we’ve always told our kids, “Remember who you are and whose you no matter where you are or what you’re doing.” We represent someone in any choice we make: our parents, our company, our team, our school, ourselves. Choose today to be better than you’ve been. Be true to who you are and who you want to be. Try to choose what is right.
“It is easy to decide on what is wrong to wear to a party, such as deep-sea diving equipment or a pair of large pillows, but deciding what is right is much trickier.”
― Lemony Snicket, The Slippery Slope