Inverted Commas 14: A better world
… leaving the world better than we found it …
I spotted this neon sign in a Cardiff café. Cynical me thought this might be a spurious claim for a city business — a way of selling themselves as ethical — but I’d reckoned without it being a rather special establishment: Bigmoose Coffee Company.
It aims, as it says, to ensure that “all profits are reinvested into good causes.” After a close friend died the owners decided to make a difference in the world:
“The idea for our coffee shop came after we had been down to feed the homeless people of Cardiff every month for just over 2 years. It grew from just taking tea and coffee down, to getting restaurants involved in making food, bringing hairdressers down to cut the homeless people’s hair and rallying the South Wales community to collect warm clothes and bedding.
The café developed as a way of training and helping the homeless to get back onto their feet, and it has made a difference.
(Or, rather did: now that cafés like Big Moose — along with pubs and restaurants and so on — have had to close the future for them is uncertain, though at one stage they still hoped to provide takeaway food).
If you were ever in Cardiff I would have recommended you seek it out, have a hot drink or a delicious freshly prepared meal, because indirectly you would’ve been leaving the world better than it was before you went in. Hopefully when things start to normalise it may still be there.
But when I visited a couple or so months ago a little thing kept niggling at that cynical corner within me. Where had I come across this phrase before?
So, I found out that apparently it’s a meme. Worse than that, it’s a meme that’s attributed to every Tom, Dick or Harry who’s ever addressed an audience. (More rarely, it’s a Harriet who’s supposed to have said it.)
Check it out. Use a search engine, especially look at the images. Every wannabe New Age, business or self-appointed guru will be quoted as having said or written it, maybe even adding their own spin to it.
But I suspect the memes have been extracted from a context where each wise sage was just reiterating what someone had said before, and someone before that.
As far as I can see it was Lord Baden-Powell (of scouting fame) who first framed this commendable notion thus, though not all sites quoting him cite the source. It’s actually from his Last Message to Scouts, given in 1937, four years before his death:
Try and leave this world a little better than you found it, and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate, you have not wasted your time but have done your best.
Baden-Powell was by no means a saint but his heart was frequently in the right place, as seems to be the case here.
In a frightened world, especially this year of 2020, perhaps people like me need to lay their cynicism aside, to not waste their time but to do their best: this planet, and all its inhabitants, really needs all the help we can give it.
It’s up to all of us, the “we” of the quote, to leave the place better than we found it. However little it may be that we can do. Because, to borrow a phrase from a big supermarket chain, Every little helps.
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Surely they weren’t being cynical when they thought that line up?