During the nine months prior to my son’s birth, I felt a growing desire to articulate what I stand for. I anticipated a rich life of fathering this person I had yet to meet, and wanted to be prepared for him. He’ll be watching me, I thought, even when I’m buried in my own thoughts, completely unaware of him, he’ll be watching, learning, growing.

So who am I, and what will he see?

Articulating my principles and behaviors (the reality and the ones I aspire to) helped me imagine what would be important for my son to see and learn. I cast this list with him in mind.


Trust germinates inside, at the core, when you accept your feelings, emotions, and intuition. I struggle with Trust all the time because it’s hard for me to hear through all the marketing, advertising, and spin in the world. Without Trust, emotional chaos reigns. The good news is that practice really does help with Trust. The more you do it, the more it’s there for you.


Respect starts inside, too, and moves outside to others. Really, there is only one good option, which is to respect yourself, and live up to your own standards. When I behave the way I think others want me to, I lose sight of my values. Hypocrisy is only one decision away all the time.

Ask “Why?” often

Asking “Why?” enables me to respectfully challenge the status quo. Our contemporary American culture is oriented toward immediate gratification from external stimuli: We’re the world’s leading “consumer culture.” We tend to ask for “more,” not “Why are we consuming this?” “Why?” opens doors to context, knowledge, meaningful change, and growth.


Asking “Why?” leads to listening—which means putting aside personal, subjective agendas and points-of-view. Quietly listening helps me understand other perspectives, which is critical because we live in a global community with many voices. Listening is essential to change, growth, and freedom.

Act rather than not

Objects and ideas in motion tend to stay in motion (or at rest) unless acted upon by an external force. When coupled with understanding, compassion, and intention, we can, and should act, especially when others are not prepared to do so. When I was eight, I egged the old lady’s house next to ours. My parents were divorcing at that time, and my action was misguided. Next day, the old lady said she knew I’d done it, and wanted to understand why. I couldn’t explain it, but I apologized for hurting her. Her “Why?” and my apology caused us to become friends.

Give freely

When I took on my first volunteer job (at the Marine Lab in Santa Cruz at age 40), I learned for the first time what it was like to be on the other end of receiving. We can’t truly receive until we learn how to give.

Strive to improve

When I do something well, and I feel I’ve done it well—that’s the moment I ask myself, “How could I do this even better next time?” As soon as I accept that I can do it better, I realize how paling my effort was relative to “perfect.” If I can’t think of a way to improve, I simply ask someone who knows me for their input. That usually does the trick.

© John Dila 2009