Left Them Better than Found Them

In college I took several philosophy classes. The required reading in one class included a book that evaluated a host of religions and philosophies. The author sought a universal philosophy that would benefit everyone. His conclusion was simple: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Of course, this is the golden rule and it is a philosophy that anyone can follow, regardless of education or intelligence. Years ago I came to realize that implementing the golden rule didn’t entail much more than simply showing people respect and consideration. I don’t have to like everyone I encounter, nor do I have to agree with them. However, if I show enough respect to give them their space, listen to what they say, and keep a level head, then everyone seems to get along without much pain. This approach is akin to another, more broadly defined philosophy: live and let live.

Having lived for over seven decades, I can say that I’ve encountered another golden rule: leave them better than you found them. I don’t think nearly as many people embrace this view as the more well-known one, but it is worth remembering, especially whenever there is give and take in a relationship (uh, like always!). As an example, I’ve never sold a home that wasn’t in much better condition than when I bought it. The reason for this isn’t simply because I’m something of a handyman, nor is it because I’m looking for a good price (although it sure helps). It’s because I want the new owners to get as much (if not more) joy out of the house as it brought to me. I want a win-win for everyone.

Another good example of this rule is when people divorce. Leaving an ex- better off than how you found them is the noble thing to do.

My bigger hope is that the leaders of countries would adopt this philosophy. I admit, though, that even if they do, it is really tough to make assessments of how well they did. For example, is the USA better off when a new president is inaugurated? How about a few years later? Or many years later when the president is out of office and historians try to assess any lasting effects of the presidency. It is so hard to accurately attribute which actions caused what effects and whether those effects were enduring or short-lived. This is one thing that makes the US so resilient as a country.

Economist have known for years that when presidents and congress give big tax cuts, like they did last month, somewhere down the line someone has to pay for it. The only other thing for sure about tax cuts is that the rich benefit the most from them. So, it seems safe to say that the present administration is indeed leaving them better than they found them. By them, of course, I’m referring to the rich.