To Spend and Be Spent for the Good of Mankind

To Spend and Be Spent for the Good of Mankind

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By Dan Coughlin                                                

About three to four times every year I think it’s important that we step back from the doing of our work and think in a more aspirational and noble way. Otherwise we can fall into the trap of feeling like a beaver building a dam all day long, or a rat scurrying for food scraps.

In his new book, The American Spirit, the historian and author David McCullough shares fifteen of his speeches from the past thirty years. I found the book to be remarkably refreshing and inspiring. Through speeches to the U.S. Congress and a variety of university graduations, McCullough used moments in U.S. history to extract examples of the best in people. Over the past 225 years there have been many moments of bigotry, racism, cruelty, and meanness to other human beings within the U.S. However, there have been moments where people have acted in ways that we can all aspire for.

In Chapter Five, called The Animating Spirit, he told the story of Benjamin Rush, who served other people in a myriad of ways as a physician, teacher, and educator, Rush said, “To spend and be spent for the good of mankind is what I chiefly aim at.”

Wow, what a statement, and he backed it up with his actions.

Aspire. Dream. What can you do to make an extraordinary difference in your family or in your organization or in your community or in your country?

I see Rush’s statement in two parts: spend, and be spent.


To me, this means spend some of your time, energy, and money in preparing yourself to be able to make a great difference in the world. I’m a big believer in spending time in reading books. I think the ideas in books help to prepare me to make a bigger difference in the future.

What can you invest yourself in that would prepare you to make the type of impact that you want to make?

If you want to help solve the literacy problems in your community, could you volunteer to teach children how to read? This might help you to understand the problem at a broader level.

If you want to develop young leaders in your company, could you volunteer to mentor one young person? This might help you to see how a mentoring program could be applied across your organization.

If you want to create a better service for your customers, could you go and spend time with a customer as he or she uses your service? This might help you to see issues that customers deal with that people in your organization are not seeing.

Be Spent

To be spent means to do the work. To actually do the thing that you have developed yourself to do in a way that really makes a meaningful impact.

You’ve spent your lifetime developing yourself into the person you are today. What would it mean now to be spent in a worthy cause?

Step back from the doing of tasks, and lift your eyes above strategy, tactics, and action plans.

What can you do to really matter in a significant way at home, in your community, at work, and in your country? What can you do that no one else can do in the way that you can do it that will really matter in the big scheme of things?

It’s okay to aspire for noble actions.

Go ahead, be noble today.

The Downside of Imagination

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An imagination is an incredibly powerful tool.

It’s through your imagination that you can see a future that does not currently exist. With that picture in your mind you can start to take steps toward making it a reality. This is how all meaningful progress happens. First in the mind, and then in physical reality.

The Downside of Imagination

However, without realizing it, we can create in our minds future situations that are very negative and seem very real, or we can relive situations from our past that no longer are happening. Either way we are eating up valuable time and energy on negative images that don’t exist.

Situation #1

(l learned this exercise in a really interesting book called, “Loyalty to your Soul” by Ron and Mary Hulnick.)

Imagine you’re sitting in a chair in the middle of a room. Your ankles are tied together and your hands are tied behind your back. Your legs and torso are tied to the chair. You have a handkerchief tied around your head and through your mouth. There is a two-foot machete on a small table about ten feet away. There are only two doors into the room. Coming through each door are five angry gang members with guns. You have done something to make them very mad. They are coming to hurt you or maybe kill you.

How do you get out of this situation?

You can’t move or speak. You can’t take back what you did, and they are getting closer and closer to you. What’s the only way out? Keep thinking.

Notice the exercise started with the word “imagine.”

The only way out is to stop imagining it.

Situation #2

Your annual performance review is in two days. You very much want a raise and a promotion. You see your boss at a meeting. He seems to be in a very bad mood. You imagine that he’s angry at you. You think he wants to punish you for a decision you made last week. You’re convinced that you’re either going to get demoted or fired. The raise is out of the question based on the way he’s acting at this meeting. You start thinking about how you’re going to explain this to your spouse. You start to feel sick to your stomach. All your years of hard work are going out the window because of one bad decision last week. You notice that everyone in the meeting is staring at you. They all know what you did. You wish you had never made a decision. You promise yourself to never make any decisions in the future. You’ll just do what the boss wants every time. That way you can never get in trouble. You’re feeling hopeless and helpless. Fear and anxiety are rising.

How can you ever get out of this terrible situation?

Answer: stop imagining it.

Let the Negative Image Go and Create a Positive Image

We sometimes create negative future situations in our mind about our boss, employees, customers, colleagues, friends, family members, finances, work situations, and so on. Then we mentally embellish the situation until it becomes impossible to fix.

What’s the only way out?

Stop imagining it. It never really happened. Let the negative thoughts go. If need be, imagine what you do want to have happen.

Situation #3

Ten years ago you coached a youth sports team. You were really excited to be with the kids and teach the game. You loved bringing the kids together to teach the fundamentals and build teamwork and give out high-fives and pats on the back. You wanted to create kind of an ideal situation where everyone got along and enjoyed playing together. Then you started dealing with parents who didn’t like where you put their son or daughter on the field. They didn’t like the way you coached. They wanted you to stop yelling encouragement and directions. Then others wanted you to talk up more. They didn’t like your messages to the team because you mentioned some kids but not other kids. You recall the intense conversations with parents as though they are happening right now. You’re getting angry as you relive the parents telling you what to do and why your way was all wrong. You keep the argument going day after day in your mind. Every time you do it you get all worked up again.

What’s the only way out of this situation?

Stop imagining it. It isn’t really happening right now. It’s over. Let the negative thoughts go.

Interrupt Your Negative Memory and Replace Your Negative Thoughts

These kinds of situations can happen all day where we relive past negative situations from years ago with our spouse, children, boss, colleagues, employees, customers, and suppliers. As we relive these situations, we get ourselves into an extremely negative state of mind. The negative emotions of helplessness, hopelessness, fear, anger, and worry become very real within us.

Negative mental creations are like weeds in a yard. They can crop up and take over an otherwise healthy mind. Whenever you imagine a negative past event, close your eyes and shake your head back and forth.

Then say to yourself, “Stop imagining it. Wake up.”

Then move forward with your day. If need be, relive the healthy, positive experiences from your past. The key is to take control of what you are imagining.

An imagination is an incredibly powerful tool, but it’s only useful if we handle it with care.