Paul Burt says today we are better off than any previous generation, yet the issues we deal with are just as overwhelming.

I learned a valuable lesson on the first day of my second job. I was a boy amongst real men (or so I thought at the time) who could sweat all day without complaint and fight their way out of any situation that got too sensitive for them. They could also drink and by chance or design there was a pub on the route home from the woolshed. Food has always been higher up my priority list than beer, but I had to wait until closing time before I glimpsed any sign of it and it wasn’t what I had imagined. There was a dim light showing in the second level of the house as we drove up well past bedtime. We were hardly out of the car when I heard a balcony door slide open and the boss’s long-cold dinner sailed past his head on its own flying saucer. A few more choice words from the lady of the house helped propel my much anticipated meal on a similar path. I had a fraction more time than the boss had had and was hungry enough to attempt a catch. This saved the plate but not the meat and potatoes, which disappeared into the darkness. There was no gravy.

I’ve never taken anyone for granted since. If someone is good enough to do something for you, show the appropriate consideration. Sadly, good manners don’t carry the importance they once did. Anyone of a certain age knows about hats off inside and no elbows on the table. Not beginning to eat until everyone is seated, and consuming your meal in a quiet, dignified manner, not wolfing it down like a Labrador. These things may seem insignificant but it’s an introduction to a more disciplined, considerate way of behaving. But manners go much further than table etiquette, they are the essential lubricant for good relationships. It’s as simple as treating others as you yourself would like to be treated.

I haven’t seen a copy for years but there is a piece of inspirational writing called Desiderata, a sort of 11 commandments for non-believers. It was once quite common to see a framed example anywhere that people might sit and contemplate life. The title comes from the Latin and means something that is desired. The poem was written by American Max Ehrmann in the early 1920s and explores self-worth and other human attributes and aspirations, many of which have taken a back seat but are needed now as much as ever as a guideline to living.

“Be yourself”

“Take kindly the counsel of the years”

“Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune”

“There will be always be greater and lesser persons than yourself”

“Speak your truth quietly and clearly”

Reading these lines, and others, it’s hard to argue with the wisdom, but it now seems from a different age. ‘I’ disease is a global pandemic, and coupled with an unbridled thirst for instant gratification, is a blight on how we live and relate to others.

You tend to be given less advice as you age (seen as a lost cause perhaps) but along with the lesson of the flying plates I was told to own my own problems. If you look to blame others for your particular predicaments you will never solve them. Break them down into manageable bits and start climbing up and over the top.

Has anyone else noticed that New Zealanders in the 21st century have more choices, more spare time, more entertainment, less drudgery, and more money than any previous generation, yet the issues that beset us seem as overwhelming as ever. That indicates to me that both the problem and the solution is internal, a place we seldom look. At times every one of us will need help but the best way to ensure that help arrives is always to give more than you take.

“Hang on son, that’s wide of the mark. Life is too complicated to be broken down into glib statements and simple solutions.”

“Is it?”