Increasing awareness of my own mortality helps me to live by the 'Golden Rule' of life – Ewan Aitken
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I find a vicarious pleasure in using it. Sometimes I take a bus when another form of transport would be better, just so I can use my pass. I'm not alone. Friends of a similar vintage confess to sharing the same pleasure. In some ways, it’s about a renewed sense of freedom – we might be getting on a bit, but we can still go and see places and people, old and new.
When I tap my card on the reader the words “no expiry” flash up on the little screen. They are of course, both true and not true. My pass will never expire until, of course, I do. Then it will be not a symbol of freedom but just another bit of plastic, of no use to anyone.
Such thoughts might be seen as morbid, but I don’t agree. I have a far greater sense of my own mortality since turning 60. More than ever, I believe I can only live life to its fullest by embracing the fact I will one day shuffle off this mortal coil.
I don’t mean in some fatalistic sense of ‘I need to do everything on my bucket list before I die’. It’s more about understanding that only by accepting I shall die one day, can I know I'm alive. It makes sure what I do now is what's meaningful, not what might happen to me, or what I shall be remembered for, after I die.
When I was a politician, I was often asked what my legacy would be. I always said it was for others to decide if I had any political legacy. I believe it’s foolish for a politician to make seeking a legacy the purpose of their political decisions, for it will lead to bad ones.
I have tried to make my purpose, not just as a politician, but any role I’ve had, to live the ‘Golden Rule’: treating others, neighbour, stranger and even someone who sees themselves as my enemy, as I would want to be treated. I have often failed in this aspiration, but it feels like a healthier way of living than worrying about what people will remember me for when I either leave my post or die.
Everything which really matters to us as human beings is in the quality of the relationships we have with others, from those we love dearly to those who we will never meet but whose lives we know about. Knowledge of another life is a form of relationship through our common humanity.
This is especially true about whose suffering we can help alleviate, even in the smallest of ways – whether it’s those who are facing catastrophe, like those escaping Sudan or Ukraine right now, or the increasing numbers in our city experiencing homelessness.
Every act of support is a gift of life for both the person receiving help, and the person giving it. It is living the Golden Rule. It is living meaningfully, for and with our neighbour and the stranger. It’s what that ‘no expiry’ message reminds me of every day.
Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians