I’ve always rather liked the old saying, “Love many; trust a few; always paddle your own canoe.” It seems to pack a lot of advice in a few simple words, but like most things in this world, the real meaning is up to interpretation. When I first read it, I believed the last few words referred to being self reliant, and not counting too much on others to take care of us. And there is a certain amount of wisdom in that interpretation, as expecting others to meet our every need is bound to result in serious disappointment. But the older I get, the more I see another meaning in those words that I believe is even more important.
“Always paddle your own canoe” can also mean refrain from paddling other people’s canoes. And by that I don’t mean refrain from helping other people who are in need, as I sincerely believe that all of us have an obligation to help others as much as we possibly can. That’s just a part of what it means to be human and to live in community. What I do mean is that we need to refrain from trying to direct other people’s lives. To use the canoe analogy, that means to refrain from telling other people how fast they need to paddle, what kind of oars they ought to be using, and which bodies of water they should navigate, etc.
Of course we all like our own ideas best, and I’m no exception. In my heart of hearts, I probably believe that the world would be a better place if only everyone else thought and acted more like me, and I think that’s a belief that most of us share whether we’re aware of it or not. The problem is that it has become far too fashionable to act on that belief, and to spend endless time and energy pointing out other people’s faults and trying to bring them in line with our way of thinking and doing. A quick glance at social media is proof of that, with its endless posts that have basically the same message: “my values are better than your values.” Few of the posts actually come right out and say that, but the message is still there, loud and clear.
I’ve come to believe that if we’re really interested in making the world a better place, we need to start with ourselves. Instead of spending quite so much time finding fault with other people, we need to take a good long look in the mirror and see how we can do better. And then make the effort to actually be better. And if we put even half the energy that we put into trying to change other people into improving ourselves, I think the results would be amazing, to say the least.
So, yes, I still like that saying about paddling your own canoe. Because I really believe that if I can keep trying to paddle my canoe (as in live my life) as best as I possibly can, I just might end up doing some good in this world……