That afternoon Dad and I took a walk, and I finally plucked up the courage to ask those big questions. Dad’s answers, simple but wise, did more than wipe away my birthday fears; they also helped shape my life since.
Dad assured me that turning 12 didn’t mean that I would be expected to grow up overnight or that I could no longer enjoy the simple pleasures of childhood. Rather, he explained, enjoying and appreciating the little things in life is a quality of childhood that we should never outgrow, no matter how old we live to be. And to my surprise, I found out from him that maturity has nothing at all to do with trying to act older or impress others. True maturity, he said, is learning to think more about others than myself; it is looking at the world through unselfish eyes, trying to see how I can build up others and make a positive difference for them, putting myself in their place and showing understanding and compassion. In short, it’s being loving, being “you first” instead of “me first.”
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This is the true joy in life: Being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.—George Bernard Shaw