Pete Seeger died on Tuesday. He was a mentor of mine.
Words I found about him in tribute talked of “unfailing integrity,” of how he is “a one man army on the side of the better angels in humankind.”
I think in some ways his music reflects one of the basic platforms of the true Christian message. Love thy neighbor.
He spouted idealism, optimism and justice. Pete had yearnings for what was right and fair and plain, sensible thinking.
I’ve been thinking a lot about ethics, “a set of principles of right conduct” and how those principles are defined. The Josephson Institute Center for Public Service Ethics that helps people young and old, businesses, policy makers and public service agencies think about values that are not political, religious, or culturally biased created six pillars that I feel describes Pete Seeger/the ideal citizen.
Pete stood for:
Trustworthiness — To be honest. Don’t deceive, cheat, or steal. Be reliable. Do what you say you’ll do. Have the courage to do the right thing. Build a good reputation. And be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country
Respect — Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule. Be tolerant and accepting of differences. Use good manners, not bad language. Be considerate of the feelings of others. Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone. Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements.
Responsibility — Do what you are supposed to do. Plan ahead. Persevere — keep on trying. Always do your best. Use self-control. Be self-disciplined. Think before you act — consider the consequences. Be accountable for your words, actions and attitudes. Set a good example for others.
Fairness — Play by the rules. Take turns and share. Be open-minded; listen to others. Don’t take advantage of others. Don’t blame others carelessly. Treat all people fairly
Caring — Be kind. Be compassionate and show you care. Express gratitude. Forgive others. Help people in need.
Citizenship — Do your share to make your school and community better. Cooperate. Get involved in community affairs. Stay informed. Vote. Be a good neighbor. Obey laws and rules. Respect authority. Protect the environment. Volunteer.
Simple ethics that seems like common sense. If we all could embrace these standards — what we expect from our children but seem to forget about when we grow up — what a great world we would be living in.
Pete upheld all these pillars through life, action and song.
In his song “To My Old Brown Earth” he sings:
“Guard well our human chain, Watch well you keep it strong, As long as sun will shine.
“And this our home, Keep pure and sweet and green, For now I’m yours And you are also mine.”
While this was a song of hope that he wrote for a friend who had just died the words beseeches us to be responsible and accountable for what becomes of our life, our earth, our place our home. We are on this boat together.
Three years ago I called him up and we talked for an hour about hope and what makes him think of a bright future. In his constant upbeat spirit he said being with other people who were doing good things in their community and being young in heart.
Then he excused himself to go chop wood, which he did every other day for exercise and release.
The LA Times recalled “When people asked the ever-upbeat Seeger if he ever got discouraged, he’d reply: “I say ‘The hell with it’ every night around 9:30 then get up the next morning. Besides, if you sing for children, you can’t really say there’s no hope.”
The reason people loved him so is because he constantly upheld what is right — for all.
So stand for what you think is right, abide by the pillars, sing songs with others and be like Pete.