Backbone, not Wishbone

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About a week ago I had an armchair psychologist set out 25 pictures of front doors on the table and asked me which door I preferred and why.


I chose a wide, wooden door with an arch over the top because it was made of natural substances, was large enough to be welcoming, and the arch over the top had spindles that directed my eye toward heaven.


“Now, imagine you’re walking into that door with your family,” she said. “Tell me about the hopes you have for your children once you’re inside that house.”


This was definitely one of the strangest exercises I have ever completed! I realized I could breeze through and just answer something silly out … or I could stop and give the question some thought.


I decided to embrace the experience.


“I imagine this house to be a house where our kids see other people welcomed and there’s a large table with room for extra people for dinner. I feel the attention of the people in the house will be outward focussed and my children will realize they’re part of a larger community and have a responsibility to pay attention to the world around them. I imagine we would be a satisfied, content, and useful family living inside that door.”


I can’t tell you why a picture of a door pulled those thoughts from me, but I can assure you when I finished speaking my throat was tight, my eyes were misty, and I was feeling exceedingly vulnerable.


My armchair psychologist said they’d never heard anyone respond to the exercise that way. “It’s cool, I like what you had to say, I’ve just never heard anything like it before,” she said.


I felt dumb and exposed, but also pleased I had articulated a glimmer of the philosophy that is part of our family value system.


Later that same day I ran across this quote on Facebook:


“Always we hear the cry from teenagers, ‘what can we do, where can we go?’


“My answer is this: Go home, mow the lawn, wash the windows, learn to cook, build a raft, get a job, visit the sick, study your lessons and after you’ve finished, read a book. Your town does not owe you recreational facilities and your parents do not owe you fun.


“The world does not owe you a living, you owe the world something. You owe it your time, energy and talent so that no one will be at war, in sickness and lonely again. In other words, grow up, stop being a cry baby, get our of your dream world and develop a backbone not a wishbone. Start behaving like a responsible person. You are important and you are needed. It’s too late to sit around and wait for somebody to something someday. Someday is now and that somebody is you!”

(A judge, as quoted by Northland College principal John Tapene.)


The phrase that stuck out to me the most in this incredibly blunt, incredibly true statement, was “develop a backbone, not a wishbone.” And the second most significant phrase? “You are important and you are needed.”


Is anyone else convicted when they read this quote? I am!


I regularly forget my world shouldn’t be consumed by my issues and concerns, that I should have an outward focus and be constantly on the lookout for ways I can help the people around me.


The world does not owe me anything… but I have the power within my hands to make a significant impact for the better on the world.


How exciting, how liberating is that?!


What would you like to do with the power you harness when you develop a “backbone, not a wishbone”? If you could spend your energy impacting any one thing and be wildly successful, what would you change about the world?



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