Or if you do have the "aha moment," it is long after you have internalized the behavior which you finally realize is the right way to do things.
Not remembering when or how I figured out this valuable lesson for life hasn't kept it from being an important one for me.
A first step is learning that what we do in a situation means more than any title attached to your name, but the real lesson is that whatever you do or say should focus on making things better not worse for others. Passing on a problem, hidden or visible, is not a good way to live your life.
Making your problem someone else's problem is just not a good way to live your life. Creating something better out of what life puts in your lap is a lot more worthwhile.
The first time I can remember consciously working towards this was when we bought our second Tay Creek, New Brunswick farm in the eighties. We bought it from a man who I later learned had a reputation for buying farms and destroying them.
He would buy the farm, have the timber clear-cut, use the fields until they would hardly grow crops, and then walk away from the mortgage if he couldn't sell the place.
We bought the farm from him and immediately started working to bring the farm back into production. One field had been taken over by alder bushes, and the whole farm needed lime. Over the course of a few years, the farm became a place were we could count on great crops. All the hard work was worth it, and when we sold the place, the fields were in very good condition.
Not surprisingly the same concepts work when dealing with people, but because people are more unpredictable, sometimes you can treat people really well and still have few positive results to show for your efforts.
However there are times when the results with people are even more impressive. We have always tried to be good neighbors, and when we lived on the farm, mostly we were surrounded by people who believed in lending a helping hand whenever possible.
During the Canadian winters, it seemed like I was always pulling someone out of a snowbank or clearing a driveway with my tractor mounted snowblower. We didn't have a lot of spare money, but I don't think that I ever turned down a request for help.
When we decided to disperse our cattle herd in 1982, it was a huge undertaking and took the better part of a year to prepare for the dispersal sale. A lot of the work was in converting one of our barns into an auction ring with seats for bidders. It meant cleaning out the barn and moving tons of manure. Selling over two hundred head of cattle in a few hours requires the right kind of facility.
Our sale was scheduled in October and the weather turned bad in late August. There were non-stop rains, and it looked like the three people I had hired were not going to be enough to get the job done. We did not have more money to hire additional people.
Monday morning two weeks before our sale date, many of the men from the community showed up unannounced on our doorstep willing to work with no pay until our barn was ready. One neighbor even took vacation to help.
Our sale went on to be a great success, and I will never forget the people who worked in such miserable, cold, rainy conditions to help make it possible.
Over the years, we have even made it a household policy to sell things in the best possible condition. When we ended up with my mom's home in Mount Airy, NC, we used all our spare time for three years to get the home back in good shape so we could feel comfortable selling it to someone.
When we put our Roanoke, VA on the market, we worked for several months to fix what we saw as things we would want done before we moved into a home. It wasn't a cheap way to go about marketing a home, but it is the way that fits with our philosophy.
I read somewhere recently that above a certain level, the amount of money that you have has very little correlation with your level of happiness. There is plenty of evidence that being rich isn't the road to happiness.
If you focus on leaving things a little better wherever your presence has an impact, in the long run you won't have to worry about things coming back to haunt you, and you might even get some nice surpises along the way.