Driving through a community he hasn't seen in years, a man finds his heart going out to the businesses and homeowners. The decline is disturbing. Shops are closed. Streets are dirty. Houses are in disrepair.
A woman scans the entertainment section of the newspaper and comments to her companion how exasperated she is with the choice in movies. "It's between crude humor and excessive violence," she says.
Deteriorating quality, whether in small everyday occurrences or on a larger scale, might seem so commonplace that we start to think of it as an inevitable cycle of life; that things will get worse, not better.
But there's something that each of us can do to make things better.
We have the option of helping raise the standard. Rather than accept the notion that the decline is so deep-rooted that it defies solution, why not choose to consider the possibilities for improvement? Why not take the position that a loss of quality is unacceptable, and that with even a little more love, patience, care - and maybe a few practical steps - things can get better for everyone?
The possibilities for improvement really are limitless. Think about the impact that Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, had on the world of journalism as she opened her heart to raising prevailing standards for the benefit of readers and journalists.
Over the years she had seen her lifework exploited and distorted by a press that routinely dished out unfounded rumors and sensationalism to its readers. Even so, Mrs. Eddy knew the great potential of the press to be a constructive rather than a destructive influence.
Sending letters to newspapers helped. But she went much further. She took a profound initiative to lift the overall quality of journalism and provide readers with responsible coverage. She charged the Monitor with blessing all humanity with fair, honest, and constructive reporting.
Of course, not every endeavor to improve quality can be of such magnitude. Conversations with neighbors, exploring ways that we can help one another make the neighborhood a better place to live, can be a valuable step in raising the level of community life. A little closer attention to the needs of a friend or relative can make a meaningful difference in the quality of his or her life. I recall the moment I realized that I could certainly clean up a stretch of long-neglected public land that for years I had passed by, thinking that the needed cleanup was someone else's responsibility. It was a labor of love.
Having higher aims and expectations, and the ability to fulfill them, naturally grow out of glimpsing a great spiritual fact: the absolute goodness and perfection of God, our creator and the creator of the universe. That fact continues to teach me so much about the possibilities for doing good. It's a reminder that these possibilities are infinite; that our true identity and the nature of all reality are spiritual and perfect, like the God who made us. Isn't that the profound point that Jesus was making in his Sermon on the Mount when he said, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect"? (Matt. 5:48)
One can see in those words a universal summons to a higher quality of life. More important, one senses the power of God's love behind the words - love that impels us to help one another lift our lives to a higher standard.
Right where declining quality appears to be an accepted way of life, God is every moment providing practical ideas that show us what steps to take to turn things around. In "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mrs. Eddy encouraged anyone taking the path to better quality: "Imperfect mortals grasp the ultimate of spiritual perfection slowly; but to begin aright and to continue the strife of demonstrating the great problem of being, is doing much" (pg. 254).
Yes, much can be done to better the quality of our communities, our schools, our relationships, every part of our lives. There's no ceiling on the good we can accomplish.