New Harmony: Life's big picture is other people

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 19 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

Air Force players celebrate with the crowd after defeating Navy 35-34 in overtime in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct 1, 2011, in Annapolis, Md.

Luis M. Alvarez, Associated Press

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A couple of weeks ago I watched the Air Force Academy play football on television. I liked the Falcons with their sharp uniforms and helmet and undaunted team spirit.

This time around, I found something else to like.

I liked seeing that, where other teams print the names of the players on the jerseys, the Academy had chosen to print shared values instead — "service," "freedom," things like that.

The gesture showcased the fact players see themselves as something grander than themselves.

They were sacrificing their identity to play for a greater cause — the cause of "concern for others."

It made me wonder what would happen if BYU players were to wear a noble ideal printed on their jerseys? How would that go over?

The notion fits religion as easily as it fits the armed services. It's why we sing "Behold a Royal Army" and "We Are All Enlisted" — not because we're on the move to conquer but because of our shared beliefs and hopes, just as the Salvation Army is united by caring, not conquering.

Of course, we need to distinguish between "unity" and "uniformity."

Some sports teams may dress alike, but the discord on the team is deafening.

By the same token, some groups are made up of individuals with outfits, accents and even skin color more varied than the blocks of a patchwork quilt. But when the pressure comes, they pull together as one to achieve a goal.

And more often than not, that goal has to do with helping others.

And I've been in the room with the Grim Reaper enough times to know that putting all my energies into helping myself is a quick way to feel regret on my death bed.

Putting my efforts into bigger things is a better way to go.

Self-centered people, in my experience, are often "bathtub" people — people who are both narrow and shallow.

The better part of each of us will always try to think of others.

Socrates may have said, "The unexamined life is not worth living," but I'll up the ante. "The self-centered life is not worth living."

Life is about the big picture, and the big picture is other people.

It's a message we hear all the time.

It's in the Bible ("Love one another"), the Book of Mormon ("meek, submissive, full of love") and we hear it from spiritual leaders of every faith and creed.

I read something along those lines just the other day, in a quote from the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron.

She writes, "We don't set out to save the world. We set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts."

I printed that quote out.

I don't know if it's proper to say "Amen" to a Buddhist, but I say "Amen" to that.

Jerry Johnston is a former Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears weekly in Mormon Times.

Email: jerjohn@desnews.com

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