There is an Arab proverb reminding us that while it’s all very well to trust in providence and have faith that everything will work out, it does not let us off the hook from doing whatever we can at the same time to ensure a favourable outcome.
A related story tells of a man who is trapped on his roof-top during a flood. First his neighbour passed by in a rubber dinghy and asked him to jump in. “No thank you,” he said, “God will provide.” He gave the same reply when a police speedboat and then a military helicopter offered to rescue him.
When he died and went to heaven, he accused God of not saving him. God boomed, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what else did you expect?”
1. Accept responsibility for your life
The root word of ‘responsibility’ is ‘response’. As a responsible person, it means that you agree to respond to whatever life throws your way. Whenever something happens, our tendency is to focus on the event, and often to instinctively look for something or someone to blame. When you do that, you are not in control of your life. Turn your focus inward and ask yourself how you would like the situation to turn out, and accept responsibility for taking the action needed to generate that outcome.
2. Take ownership of your ‘camel’
It’s a common mistake to assume that someone else will take care of it, whatever ‘it’ is. We assume that the church is in charge of our faith, the company in charge of our careers, our spouse in charge of our marriage, and the schools in charge of our children’s education. This results in passive living because we’re waiting for ‘the other party’ to initiate change or suggest improvements. The truth is that there is no other party. There is only you. If you don’t own your life, no one else will.
3. Secure your assets
We tend to focus on financial and material assets, buying insurance for our incomes, our homes and our possessions. These are good assets to have. More important, however, are your other assets: your character, your mind, your health, and your relationships. Insure these assets too. Adopt a personal hero to model your character after. Read a book a week to expand your mind. Exercise for 30 minutes a day to improve your health. Invest in time with the people you love, to protect and nourish your relationships. Basically, ‘tie up your camel’.
4. Believe in a higher power
This is easy if you have a religion that you subscribe fully to. Trust in God. After you have done all you can to act responsibly, own your life and secure your assets, let go and let God. If you don’t believe in God, let go anyway and trust the universe to take care of the rest. While it’s good to rely on ourselves, which is what the previous three steps were about, at some point we must recognise that there is a higher power than ourselves. It is wise to know when to let this power take over.
5. Look out for your neighbour
When you have taken care of yourself, you will be able to look out for others. Unless you’re a hermit, you will live in a neighbourhood with other people. You can make that small part of the world a better place for everyone. Maybe you’re fortunate and already live in a place where people look out for each other. Maybe you live in a big city where you don’t even know your neighbour’s name.
Today would be a good day to say hello and introduce yourself. Offer to collect your neighbour’s newspapers when they’re away on vacation so they don’t pile up and inform would-be burglars that the house is empty. Help to babysit for an hour or two to give a tired mother time to run her errands, take a long bath, or catch some sleep. Essentially help to look after your neighbour’s ‘camel’, or lend them yours when it’s needed.
So trust in God but tie up your camel. There is much wisdom in simple phrases like these. If this particular motto does not appeal to you, choose something else. Have a personal creed that defines who you are or who you want to be, and provides simple wisdom for living your life.
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