by: Topher Wiles
Dads are known to have some rotten advice sometimes. Those little nuggets may sound like they contain good wisdom, but on closer inspection reveal awful precepts to hand down. I’ve heard men share some one-liners such as: “Be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!” “If you do it bad enough the first time, you won’t be asked again.” “Don’t break two laws at once, that’s how you get caught!” Yet, for all the awful advice out there, some dads excel in giving down to earth practical wisdom that sticks with you for years to come. My dad shared one when I was a teenager that has filtered its way into every facet of life.
“Leave it better than you found it.”
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At 16 years old and newly drivers-licensed, I was looking forward to hitting the road on my own, but I didn’t own a car yet. My loving father didn’t believe in buying a kid their first car when they got their license but letting kids borrow for a while to see how this whole driving thing worked out. While I didn’t appreciate it at the time, he did offer to let me use his 1973 ¾ ton Chevrolet stick shift rust bucket of a truck whenever he wasn’t using it. That old truck came with one caveat: leave it better than you found it.
Dad expounded on what he meant by telling me to always make sure there is more gas in the vehicle when I park it than when I first turned the ignition on. Whenever possible I was instructed to completely fill up any gas tank of any vehicle I borrowed or rented. Also, I should make sure the trash is always picked up, vehicle gets vacuumed out, and windows get cleaned. If I completed any of these tasks when borrowing his vehicle or anyone else’s, it would ensure they would have a positive feeling toward me should I ever need to borrow it again.
After years reflecting on it, practicing it, and now repeating this mantra to my own children, I’ve learned that my dad was exactly right. “Leave it better than you found it” is a great way to live. It teaches our families that we are not simply consumers in the world by taking what we want and using a resource up until it no longer has any value to us. This dadism reveals that we’re part of a much bigger community and that we have a social responsibility to those who come after us in this world. The idea of social responsibility holds true in all walks of life, big or small.
In Our Environment – In late December my boys and I held to our annual cold-weather backpacking tradition, hiking hard through some majestic terrain during the day and burrowing in our sleeping bags at night in an effort to experience God’s beauty. When we stopped at the primitive campsites on the Caney Fork near Virgin Falls, we found no sign of trash, the fire ring scooped out, and a stack of wood nearby, which was perfect after a long day’s hike. As we left, we tried to do the same as well as hike out other trash we found in the woods nearby, leaving the area better than we found it. Camping is a great way to begin practicing “Leave it better than you found it” with your family.
On The Job – It’s very rare today for people to stay in one position for the entirety of their career. A 2012 article on Forbes.com about “job hopping” shared that the average length of stay for an employee at any one job is down to 4.4 years. So the odds are, your teenage child, niece, nephew, or grandchild is not going to stay at that first job for long. Teach them to value their time in the position by making small improvements in the work environment so that the next worker will have a better and easier entry into the same position.
In Relationships – Few friendships/relationships that we enter into will be life-long, meaning that we often play a part in someone’s life for a short time before handing them off to someone else. Teach your children to make sure they enhance the lives of their friends through encouragement, thoughtfulness, and dependability rather than being that friend that is a constant drag on life asking more from all relationships than they ever put into them. When the time comes to leave a relationship due to moving, graduation, changing careers, or any other life circumstances, teach your family to leave the relationship better than they found it.
In Church – Pre-pandemic Barna studies showed that church hopping and shopping is definitely increasing while actually placing membership to settle in with a body of Christ is declining among protestants. Model a “leave it better than you found it” mentality for your family by investing your time and energy into a church ministry by placing membership, asking “What can I do to help?”, and investing into other church members with the love of Christ. No matter how long or short your stay with that local church, you know you will have benefited the people and the cause of Christ in word and deed.
Parents, this world is stacked with plenty of consumers on the roster. Let’s turn the tide a bit by giving our families a producer mindset of social responsibility by striving to leave every area, every job, every relationship, and every organization better than we found it. After all, you would want someone to do the same for you.
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 2:3-4