I was speaking to a friend about their personal mottoes: Avoidance of Future Regret, and Our Purpose in Life is to be Happy. Those are both good mottoes, ones I can certainly identify with, but they aren’t mottoes I can adopt as my own. A motto should be a personal statement capturing something essential about how one chooses to live one’s life. Otherwise, any saying from a Hallmark card would do.
I already have several mottoes that I have inherited by virtue of my last name. The English branch of the Giffords has a motto emblazoned on the family crest: Malo Mori Quam Foedari, Death Before Dishonor. Great for a knight in the age of chivalry, not so relevant in the age of the internet. The Scottish Giffords are a sept of Clan Hay, whose motto is Serva Jugum, Keep the Yoke. There is a great story behind that motto, but again, not something I’m going to tattoo across my bicep.
Much more personal to me is the name of this blog, which I’ve come to think of as my motto: Cogito, Ergo Dubito. This not only reflects the centrality of doubt to a life of faith, but also the healthy attitude of “question everything”. In the post-modern era, we are besieged by opinions. But the fact that soneone or some movement or some news network believes something to be true does not make it so.
So that’s a good motto, but I think I have two more. The second is Do Good. A life well lived is a life that leaves the world a better place. This doesn’t only mean we should feed the homeless or give money to relieve poverty in Africa, although it certainly includes those things. It also means that as we pursue our own desires and pleasures we should do so in a way that leaves those around us happier and better off.
The third: Judge Not. I actually read that one in a book somewhere. This does not mean that we condone any and all actions of others, or that actions don’t have consequences. I will not hang out with someone who is abusive, inconsiderate or bigoted. Those convicted of a crime, assuming due process justly executed, need to be removed from society. But remember that we don’t know their story and that redemption may be doubtful but always possible.
So those are my mottoes, at least for now: Cogito, Ergo Dubito. Do Good. Judge Not.