Care About The Wake We Leave

When I was young, I often went out on the boat with my dad. He liked to fish, and I enjoyed being with him. I adored the chill of the early morning air and the sunlight dancing on the water. I was in awe of my dad’s skill as he took aim, casting the lure between the branches of a long-dead tree, now partly submerged in the water near shore.

To reach the magical spot I enjoyed, we first had to cross a big lake. My father made certain my life jacket was on tight. Then he pushed the boat away from the dock. Once we were safely clear, he put the motor in high gear and we were off, speeding toward our destination.

I did not enjoy facing into the strong wind created by the high speed. Holding on tight, I looked backward, observing the effect the boat had on the water as we raced over the calm surface. Spray shot up over the bow, wetting us. Buoys jerked up and down as we sped by. A flock of ducks quickly took flight, their tranquil morning disturbed by our waves. When we were closer to land, our boat’s wake crashed hard against the shore.

After what seemed an eternity, we arrived. My dad slowed the boat down and turned the noisy, smelly, water-churning engine off. He moved up front to an electric trolling motor that silently propelled us the rest of the way, leaving only a small ripple as evidence of our passing.

As we moved slowly, without upsetting the wildlife, I delighted when dragonflies landed on the boat. Fish swam close by, undisturbed by our presence. Once, a bird came and sat for a brief moment on the steering wheel.

When it came time to head back, I became disappointed. Too soon we were off again, zooming across the lake, our wake disturbing the water and everything on it as we went by.

Many years later, during an especially hard period, it dawned on me: I am like a boat. I too leave a wake as I travel through life. Today, I choose to move at a slower, more purposeful pace, although I have not always selected the right speed and direction—in the form of responsible behavior—that represented me well to myself and the world.

There was a time when I behaved as a fast boat, churning up waves of drama and chaos that crashed hard over me and others. Many of the people I knew in that “former life” will confirm it.

Running late, I aggressively honked at the cars in front of me or became impatient with pedestrians crossing the street. When I had loud parties, I ignored the impact on my neighbors. The plastic cup I carelessly threw in the gutter became part of a swirling mass of trash in the Pacific Ocean. Lying caused people to distrust me.

I now admit it because I was not genuinely proud, happier, or more peaceful for acting thoughtlessly. Life did not become easier or less stressful as a result of racing along without caring about the consequences of my actions. Life was most difficult when I behaved as if I were entitled to do as I pleased.

Over the course of my life there have been many times I did not care about the wake my behavior created. The truth is that although I may live in a free country, I am not entitled to behave as I please! I am not free to do what I want without regard to the consequences of my actions. Action without accountability is not free. There are always consequences!

The more I allowed myself to push the boundaries of what is morally, ethically, and socially acceptable, the higher the level of negative payback I received. It was eventual and inevitable.

Extensive personal freedom requires me to operate at the highest levels of personal integrity. Doing so maintains my positive advantage within systems that often allow and encourage pushing acceptable boundaries to intolerable and ridiculous extremes. The notion it is suitable to act without caring about short- and long-term consequences is completely egotistical, motivated by the impatience, immaturity, and thoughtlessness of my self-centered ego.

Finally it dawned on me that I could not possibly be the only person who gets hurt, stressed, angry, abused, bullied, or ostracized. Other people also feel pain and deal with negative “life stuff.” That open-hearted aha moment was what it took for me to stop seeing myself as separate and alone and to start seeing myself as one part of our Earth family.

Yes, there was a time when I did not have the level of awareness necessary to recognize how my actions impacted other living beings. Today I realize caring about the wake I leave is what makes me feel fantastic about me. The gratification I receive from working hard to do the best thing for all concerned is more satisfying than another person’s praise. Assuming accountability for my behavior results in my loving and respecting myself.

Doing the right thing is the right thing to do, because people of honorable character always finish first, even when we do not win the race.

When we have an argument with a friend, we apologize. Real friends care more for friendship than pride.

If we see someone struggling to open a door, we stop and offer to help. Helping others makes our life richer.

Smiling when we pass people on the street, at work, at the bus stop, or anywhere else makes our heart sing. When we send our heart out front to greet the world, it makes us content and others feel seen.

When we notice a car waiting to turn on to a crowded street, and we are in the position to let the person in, we do so. The time we spend allowing someone to go ahead of us is time well spent.

Our self-love and respect come from leading with our heart to care about our behavior. From being respectful of our neighbors, to being on time, to being a positive example of what to value and how to behave, we strive to be our best. We listen attentively and readily share our feelings. We speak to others with respect. We assume responsibility for healing our emotional baggage. We refuse to jump to conclusions about other people or speak of them unkindly. We do not accept hearsay as fact. We appreciate how good it feels to properly dispose of trash and lessen our impact on the environment.

At the end of each day, as the last thoughts filter through before sleep, we want to remember we did our best to be a representative of the finest humanity has to offer. Today we want to remember we made the world a better place for our being alive. Today we want to remember we were appreciative of the gift of life.

In gratitude for the gift of each day, we lead with our heart to create a living legacy of which we are proud. There is nothing naïve, submissive, or weak about supporting the ascendancy of our peaceful, courteous, patient, and responsible heart. True power is choosing to stop rushing through life without paying attention to our actions. Real courage is slowing down to keep our heart open to care about the wake we leave.