Saturday, December 17, 2022

Better Than We Found It

On Saturday afternoon, December 10th, I officiated Lauren and Parker’s wedding ceremony at the Barr Mansion in Austin, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

The funny thing about how Lauren and Parker explain why they want to get married is that they each preface their answer telling you how deficient their answer is going to be.

Lauren says: “I could probably write about this forever. However, engineers aren’t the best writers.” Parker says, “I am a man of many words, but I often find myself speechless when I reflect on Lauren.” Fortunately, and I hate to criticize a bride and groom on their wedding day, they are both wrong. Their answers are very instructive. 

I wanted to zero in on a specific common aspect of their answers, which were each written without consulting the other, incidentally. Parker says about Lauren, “She is deeply motivated to understand and improve the lives of everyone around her.” Lauren says about Parker, “He’s the most thoughtful, sweet, loving person I’ve ever met, and he always leaves a place better than he found it.”

This might sound simple to you, but I would contend that it is the most important message for life. As modern Stoic philosopher, Ryan Holiday writes, “This should be the standard by which we judge all our endeavors, professions, relationships and indeed our lives themselves. Did we add value or extract it? Did we improve things or muddle them? Did we kick the can down the road on problems or did we solve them? Did we leave things in a better place than we found them?”

You might protest this message of Lauren and Parker. It might even make you uncomfortable. It does sound like a lot of pressure. You might try to discount it, thinking what can tiny me do that will really influence the world.

Our forefathers had a ready answer. Rabbi Tarfon in the Ethics of Fathers, the only part of the Mishnah, the 200 C.E. compendium of Jewish Law devoted solely to ethics, says: “It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.”

And more than 1800 years later, in 2020, a fellow Texan, Maren Morris, similarly implored us, “Who's gonna care if I don't? Who's gonna change if I won't? … Will we sit on our hands, do nothing about it, or will we leave this world better than we found it?”

Lauren and Parker, what we hope for you is that you continue to carry this important message into your married life, that you continue to positively influence each other, improve the lives of everyone around you, and leave every place you encounter in this world better than you found it.