The Plummer Unified Theory of an Individual’s Obligation to Humanity

The GreatSnowEvent of 2011 has come and gone. Despite the little kid in me enjoying the heck out of the 1.5 snow days I got out of it, the facility manager in me is hoping that it is the only major snow event of the year. Seriously, I’m ready for spring.

And while the day was good for goofing off, watching crappy daytime TV, and knocking stuff off the Netflix watch instantly queue, it was also good for something else…

I’m further along in developing the Plummer Unified Theory of an Individual’s Obligation to Humanity. (Or, PUTIOH.)

After the snow stopped and the wind subsided, Wednesday turned into a beautiful day. The sun came out, the snow was clean and pure, and there were hardly any people about. Emily and I suited up and went downstairs to start what we knew would be the lengthy process of digging the car out of our alley parking space.

And lengthy it was. The storm had turned the alley into a wind tunnel and while the official accumulation was only 18 inches, in the alley the snow was easily two to four feet deep. We dug a path to the car, dug the car out, made sure it started and moved, and then considered our options. The neighbors (and a later confirmation call to the Village public works department) informed us that a plow would eventually clear the center of the alley. But things are usually so tight back there that we knew we’d have to carefully consider the geometry of snow piles and drifts in order to be able to get our car in and out of its space. So we set to work improving our approach and departure angles. By this time our next-door-parking-pad-neighbor had come out, and so the three of us combined our efforts to turn our parking pad from a thigh-deep winter wonderland to a fully functional mini-lot once more. We finished our work and helped tidy up the neighbor’s space so that the eventual plowing wouldn’t undo all we’d worked so hard on. As we’d worked, we noticed that the end of the alley was a treacherous spot and some cars that were able to traverse the alley were having real trouble making the turn on to the street. So with two idle snow shovels and still some gas in our tanks (we had taken a much-welcome frozen pizza break for lunch) we headed down to fix up the end of the alley so that everyone could get in and out as needed. After the hard work was done, I went and dug out the gas grill and carved myself a throne and a beer cooler. Because what’s the point of work without reward? By the end of the day we were dog tired, crazy sore, but satisfied in a good day’s work.

And that, friends, is a pretty good metaphor for the PUTIOH. (See above if you’ve already forgotten what that stands for).

It’s still a work in progress, but the rough draft goes something like this…

Your primary responsibility, over everything else, is to the self. You look after yourself first. You’re no good to anyone if you’re nonfunctional, so see to self needs before all others. If it sounds selfish, it is. It’s meant to be. And I think that’s entirely ok. (But I should derail my own train of thought here for a second to mention – and this is critical – that the definition of “self” changes over time. At first it’s just you. But as you grow and connect it expands. Eventually “self” comes to encompass significant others/spouses/etc. Then it grows to include children. It can even come to include parents if you and they live long enough to the point where the caregiver roles reverse. “Self” implies immediacy. Who are you immediately responsible for and to? That’s self.) Make sure you’re fed and clothed. Make sure you have shelter. Make sure your way of life, your existence, is sustainable.

After that, look left and look right. Look at your neighbor. This isn’t entirely a geographic distinction, although it may very well be. How’s your neighbor doing? Is there anything you can do to improve their lot? It doesn’t have to be a lot. You don’t have to solve all their problems. But can you make their life better? Easier? Can you put a smile on their face? Then do it.

After that, look up. What can you do to help your community? There are big problems in this world and most of them aren’t able to be solved by a single person, but never doubt the power of a group of determined people. Again, you’re not responsible for solving all the ills of the world – you can’t – but can you do anything to make life better for future generations? Well, what are you waiting for?

I don’t think the idea of helping your neighbor or helping your community necessitates any kind of herculean effort. We’re all tired, we all have jobs. Some of us have kids and parents and meetings and business trips and we (most of us anyway) get exasperated by the do-gooders who try to guilt us into creating a utpoia. I get that. But I think that, within all of us, there exists the capability to do some small thing to make life better for the guy next door, or the local PTA, or the national anti domestic violence organization.

So, yeah. Do it.

And through it all, never forget that a life without fun isn’t worth a damn. So find the time to be silly, to do something embarrassing. To have fun.

And there it is. The rough draft of the Plummer Unified Theory of an Individual’s Obligation to Humanity. It’s a four part process. To sum up: Look after self first, then your neighbor, then your community. And don’t forget to have fun while you’re at it.

Like I said, this is just a rough draft – comments are welcome.

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