This past weekend, I listened to speeches from the Best Man and Maid of Honor at the wedding of my daughter and new son-in-law. Both speeches highlighted how the groom and bride became a better person based on the presence of the other in their life. I can absolutely attest to this phenomenon as I too became a better version of myself because of my wife, adding depth to the phrase, “better half.” In fact, the improvement process repeats itself continuously as our marriage and family grows.
“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every New Year find you a better man.” – Ben Franklin
Striving for a better version created one of the greatest speeches of all time, Martin Luther King’s, “I Have a Dream.” Martin Luther typically wrote a speech days before an event and then focused on his delivery. However, for this speech he was still writing it the evening before the March. Those that read that version noted the speech as, “politically sound but far from historic.” However, during the second half of the speech he shifted gears, abandoning the version in front of him. He improvised, trusted his instinct, and gave himself over to the spirit of the crowd and moment.
Covid-19 is proving to be very good at improving itself. Since coming into existence almost 3 years ago, some of the brightest minds in the world have been trying to kill it. The virus has had no choice but to adapt and change. If it doesn’t, it’ll be eliminated. It constantly mutates into a better version of itself for one reason – to exist.
As a football player, the high school version of me needed to improve to play at the college level. I needed to become faster and stronger. Then while in college, I had the benefit of two position coaches. Each one, in different ways, made me better than I was before. I credit this combination of coaches as a key reason I had a record-breaking year in 1981 and an outstanding career.
Recently, in my role managing Key Accounts, we have been preparing some critical presentations. Each of these presentations begins as a draft and goes through several revisions. Each revision builds off the one before through the contribution of different perspectives, experiences, and talents of my colleagues. Only after exhausting the team’s thoughts, comments, and ideas do we get to the version we present.
We need motivation to become better versions of ourselves. We probably all have enough food, clothing, and shelter; such that if we don’t improve, we’ll likely not lose our livelihoods, or our homes. We can easily become OK with our comfort zone, and not see the need to improve.
The best motivation comes from others who believe in us. In a marriage, we strive to be the person our spouse deserves, and we allow our spouse to help us; with football it was the coaches who believed in me and my teammates who relied on me; with business it is my colleagues; and with Martin Luther King it was Mahaila Jackson urging him to “tell them about the dream.”
By improving ourselves, we improve our environment – our friends, our family, even our jobs. The world around us becomes a bit better with each positive thought, word, act and step we take. Society is not sustainable unless we care about others and adjust our behavior to make a positive impact on them. A better ‘version of us’ is not some far-off destination that will never exist. We grow through what we go through. The good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between. Our goal should be to keep raising the bar. Some people only rise to the level of their own incompetence, but we can control that level and where the bar is set.
I believe our country is in the process of becoming a better version of itself, if we don’t allow it to rip itself apart. No doubt, we have issues, and we will grow through the good, the bad, and the ugly. I think these past several years pushed us out of our comfort zone and we see the need to improve. The motivation exists to become a better version of our society. A better version is not a new version, and not the old version. We need to build on the version that exists today with open and honest conversations and actions, focused on healing and growing.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”- Maya Angelou
God’s plan is for us to become more like Jesus. A life pleasing to God is not more of us, it’s more of Jesus in us. No matter what the best earthly version of us is, it is still a version that sins. We must aspire to follow the qualities Jesus models. From 1 John 2:6, “whoever claims to abide in him ought to live just as he lived.” A life conformed to the example of Christ is the love of God…perfected.
In St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 3:18) he talks of Christians standing in God’s presence, beholding His glory; “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.” The verb “gazing” can also be translated to “contemplating as in a mirror” and that the mirror is Christ himself.
We have the goal for an ‘ideal version,’ Jesus. We have a virus that exemplifies the daily process of improving to continue to thrive. We have the people around us to provide motivation. We own the choice. A better version is within our grasp.