We all need a maxim to live by – a short and sweet sentence that encapsulates what we do and why we do it. For me, I have a simple six word maxim that underlines everything I do: Freedom & Responsibility; Goodness & Mercy; Perseverance & Achievement.
These words were espoused to me by my friend Carl Tannenbaum, and they fascinated me as soon as I heard them. Carl told me that his principal, Doctor Dehuff at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, championed those words to every student that went through Poly.
Baltimore Polytechnic Institute is a STEM school that specializes in advanced science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It has a long history dating back to 1883, and it’s still at the cutting edge of the field nearly 140 years later. In 2019, Newsweek ranked Baltimore Polytechnic Institute 36th out of 5,000 STEM schools across the United States.[i]
I went to St. Andrews, located in Potomac, MD. It’s a good school with notable alumni including Barron Trump, Kate Siegel, Steven Levenson and Pierre Omidyar, but it’s not a ranked magnet school. I always wondered what type of special education the brainiacs at the magnet schools were privy to, and I think their maxim gives us a good idea.
Freedom & Responsibility; Goodness & Mercy; Perseverance & Achievement
I started to ask myself what these words meant to me and realized that I could apply the maxim to literally anything. It’s a framework for life, and if you couple this six-word maxim with self-discipline, your self-esteem will increase. I know mine has.
Even more importantly, focusing on this maxim has helped me to ensure that I’m continually developing myself. At the same time, it keeps me grounded in terms of my behavior and how I conduct my life.
Freedom & Responsibility
In America, we have the inalienable right of freedom of assembly. Though we possess the right to gather, we bear the responsibility of doing it peacefully. Moreover, we bear the responsibility to not impinge on the rights of other people to assemble conflict-free.
I have the freedom to take my dog for a walk, but I have the responsibility to clean her poop and to ensure that she behaves appropriately to fellow walkers. I also have the freedom to listen to loud music at home, as well as a responsibility not to disturb my neighbors.
When you’re dealing with freedom and responsibility, you need to strike a balance between the two extremes. If you have too much freedom then you won’t have time to adhere to your responsibilities, and if you have too much responsibility then you’re not able to be free. Aim for a happy balance.
Goodness & Mercy
There’s a story about Napoleon Bonaparte that’s always stuck with me. A girl begged Napoleon for mercy for her father. Napoleon said that her father was guilty and deserved death. She replied that she was asking for mercy, not justice. The argument worked, and Napoleon’s sense of goodness pushed him to free the father.
If you’re providing care for an elder, you do so out of respect and the goodness in your heart. If the senior tells you that they don’t need your help and that they can cope on their own, you could argue with them, or you could accept what they say and provide a merciful exit from the conversation.
When you’re driving your car and someone cuts you off, instead of getting angry, honking the horn and flicking the finger, show goodness and mercy by being patient with the offending driver. Your goodness and mercy alleviate potential road rage, improve safety and set you up for a more pleasant day.
Achievement & Perseverance
This comes down to working through the suffering to reach achievement through perseverance, no matter how big or small the goal is. An example of this would be a promising young athlete who ruptures their hamstring. They’d focus on rehab, treatment, training and practice to get back on the playing field and could eventually end up going pro.
Another example could be struggling with your finances or living in a dysfunctional household but persevering to create a cashflow stream so you can become independent. This could involve starting your own business, learning new skills to manifest a new career or investing cash and achieving a positive return on investment (ROI).
Perhaps you suffer from a mental illness and are sometimes guilty of self-sabotage despite a desire to be healthy. In spite of this obstacle, you can still search for the right physician and adopt cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other techniques to improve your mental health and take back control.
You might be wondering what happened to Carl after going to Poly and embracing the six words. He ended up teaching the smartest of the smart at the Naval Academy for the Trident Scholars.
His maxim formed a part of the curriculum, and Carl says that the world would be much improved if people adopted it. I agree with him, and though I never went to the Naval Academy or Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, I think that they’re words to live by, which is why I’ve made the maxim an important part of my personal and professional life. I hope you’ll do the same too.
Pichi Bellingrath McClure is a resilience expert. She helps people strengthen their personal leadership and overcome the impossible through her content, tools, and strategies. Subscribe to her biweekly Resilience Tips and follow her on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.
[i] “The Top 500 STEM High Schools”. Newsweek. November 8, 2019. Retrieved November 16, 2019.