Illustration by Guy Billout
Y ou wake up in the middle of the night, all set to get the day started nice and early, and you’re just about to jump into the shower when suddenly you pull up short and ask yourself: Do I really need to waste all that water on a full-blown shower?
Wouldn’t a quick, resources-conserving navy shower do just as well? Wouldn’t that be the ecologically sensitive thing to do?
For those of you who didn’t serve in the navy, the bathing practice involves getting in the shower, getting wet, turning off the shower, lathering up with soap, turning the shower back on, rinsing off, and turning off the shower. There is no time for aquatic lollygagging or singing.
The thing of it is, you know almost beyond a shadow of a doubt that no one in your neighborhood, or even in your ZIP code, or maybe even in the entire metropolitan area, is taking a navy shower.
At first this thought gives you a bit of a rush, like being the only person you know who can play the hammered dulcimer or explain the three main causes of the fall of the Holy Roman Empire. But then it occurs to you: If I’m standing here, conserving water in the witching hour before dawn, and nobody else is doing it, and nobody else knows that I’m doing it, is it really worth the effort?
Is there any point to practicing random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty – or vice versa – if no one is even vaguely aware that I am being senselessly kind and randomly beautiful? After all, the Good Samaritan himself practiced his act of kindness in public, where others could be inspired by it. If the Good Samaritan had done his good deed indoors, all by his lone self, hiding his beacon of beatitude beneath a bushel basket, no one would have ever heard of him.
The phenomenon outlined here is sometimes referred to as solitary virtue, or the-tree-falling-in-the-forest virtue, or not-listed-on-the-marquee virtue, or the-sound-of-one-hand-clapping virtue. This is man’s greatest gift to his fellow man because it is selfless, gratuitous, expects no praise, requires no kudos.
It has nothing in common with car-covered-with-bumper-stickers-so-you-can-all-see-how-much-better-I-am-than-you-are virtue. It is the kind of virtue that is its own reward. It is the kind of virtue that tells you to turn off that faucet and take that navy shower no matter who else is aware of it.
It’s character building, it’s exhilarating, and in the long run we’ll all be a lot better off for it. Mother Nature will know what you’ve been up to, even if your neighbors don’t.
Read the full story in the May 2010 issue of The Rotarian .