(This week is the tenth installment of the book, “The Band Director’s Lessons About Life”, which TCRN is publishing as a series during 2020. This week, band director and spiritual author Donald Lee relates a parable about recognizing what’s yours and what’s not – from a spiritual perspective. For a complete listing of previous episodes in this series, click here.)
I am what is mine. Personality is the original personal property.
NORMAN O. BROWN (American scholar, writer, and social philosopher)
“Jayden, if it’s not yours, don’t touch it. Quit throwing that pencil case around the room and give it back,” I said firmly. “But Ben said it was okay.” Jayden ignored my instruction and again tossed the pencil case two rows over to Steve. I think I’ve heard this before. I was born at night—but not last night.
“Ben, did you say Jayden could throw your pencil case around the room?” “No,” replied Ben sheepishly. Jayden was a bit bigger than Ben. It was obvious this behavior pattern hadn’t started here and wouldn’t end here.
“There you have it, Jayden. So in addition to coveting your neighbor’s ‘stuff,’ you have added bearing false witness. Two commandments in less than a minute. Wow. You’re really on a roll. Enough nonsense. Give it back now.” One or two more tosses and the pencil case landed on Ben’s desk. I addressed the whole class.
“If it’s not yours, don’t touch it. If everyone would follow that simple rule, half the world’s problems would disappear overnight. It is absolutely mind-boggling how many problems arise from a simple disrespect for property. Of course, taking other people’s stuff also involves disrespecting their dignity. To a degree, we are our possessions. They are an extension of who we are. Violating our personal property is also a violation of who we are, personally.
“This is more important than you might think. You see, learning to respect other people’s stuff is preparation for having your own stuff. When you learn to respect other people’s things, you will be able to own, take care of, and respect your own things.”
“But what if you really need something?” Lucas piped in. “If I was starving, I’d steal food.” “This is a common sentiment, Lucas. It’s the idea that needs trumps honesty. Jayden, did you need anything out of Ben’s pencil case?” “Naw. I just did it for fun,” was Jayden’s honest, braggart reply.
“I thought so. Fun for you but probably not for Ben. It was really just bullying behavior. That’s the motivation behind a lot of what we might call ‘messing with other people’s stuff.’ But let’s say you did have a need. What if you needed a pencil and didn’t have one? Who here would lend a pencil to a classmate if they needed one and asked politely?” I raised my own hand to indicate how the students should respond. Most followed my lead.
“You see? Most students in this class would lend you a pencil if you really needed one and asked sincerely. The same is true of many needs in our world. If you were really starving, most people would gladly give you food if you asked sincerely. The world is full of kind, caring, and generous people. It’s never difficult to find them. But very little theft comes from real need. Other motivations are much more common: greed, covetousness, envy, sloth, bullying, or just a plain old selfish disrespect for others and willful destructiveness.
“But it was just a pencil case, and I didn’t break anything. I wasn’t being destructive,” Jayden said with a tone of disgust. He clearly thought I was making a mountain out of a molehill.
“That’s quite true, Jayden. And I’m glad you didn’t break anything. But we learn with little things. And we perform the way we practice. So if you practice respect for people and property with these little things, it prepares you to deal with bigger things. This is how the physical world really works. The spiritual world as well.
“You see, the greatest victim of any sin is the sinner. We are what we do. We become what we do. Life is not about having. What you have is almost meaningless. What you become—that’s what matters. Become respectful.
“Trust me. This little mantra—If it’s not yours, don’t touch it—will keep you out of lots of trouble and prepare you for much bigger things in the future.”
If it’s not yours, don’t touch it. This is not only true for property—it has a spiritual dimension as well. Each person is on their own spiritual journey. In a sense, they are their own spiritual property. Each has their own lessons to learn, or not learn. We must respect the free will of others, just as God respects ours, and not attempt to control others. As the opening quote says, personality is the original personal property. Each must be free to develop their own person and soul in their own way and in their own time.
You must also be free to follow your spiritual path. Do not allow yourself to be manipulated or controlled by the expectations of family, friends, or coworkers. This is part of the courage needed to follow your heart. Without hurting others, you must take back responsibility for your own life and spiritual growth. This is yours to touch, not theirs.
In the same way that respecting the property of others helps us to value our own property, respecting the spiritual journey and free will of others helps us to value our own. We must respect each person, spirit, mind, body—their dignity, their spiritual path, and their free will.
Be sensitive to what’s yours and what’s not. Each person is responsible for their own spiritual journey.
Donald Lee is a spiritual author and speaker. This article is part of a weekly series for 2020 in which TCRN is publishing his inspirational book, The Band Director’s Lessons About Life: Volume 1 – 50 Parables on Life’s Performance Cycle, in serial form – one parable per week. You can learn more about the author at his website: www.ComingHomeSpirit.com, or order a copy of his complete book on Amazon.