I never heard my parents quote the adage, “Waste not, want not,” but they taught it to me by example. Many of my clothes were passed down to my younger brothers. When shirts were worn out, they became rags.

We didn’t dump food scraps into a slop bucket for the hogs (as did my grandmother), but with three growing boys and constant injunctions to clean our plates, there weren’t many scraps to speak of.

Today, our vegetable scraps join lawn clippings and mulched leaves in a couple of compost bins, while rain barrels help us cut down on using city water for the garden spots. The yard – whatever is not in vegetables, flowers, or mulch – features an assortment of hardy weeds, which I prefer to call “endemic plants” or “seasonal grasses,” so we have a green lawn without wasting water to maintain a golf course look.

I still have suits that are 20 years old, and neckties older than that. Jeans never completely wear out, do they?

We turn out a lot more in the recycling bin than the garbage cart. I cringe when we visit places that don’t practice recycling. If we’re driving, I crush the cans and flatten the cardboard and bring it all home.

When we’re flying, I mourn the thought of empty diet soft drink cans going to the landfill.

I confess that one habit may seem a bit obsessive, but I do it for the fun of it as much as anything: we rarely buy soap for the bathroom. Whenever we travel and stay just a day or two in a hotel, that’s never enough time to use up the little bars of soap they provide.

I bring what’s left home. What’s more, when a bar gets so small that it’s hard to handle, I just wet a larger bar and stick them together.

Call me weird, but I get some joy out of seeing what’s left get totally used and disappear, so that not even a sliver goes into the trash.

But material goods aren’t the only things that can be wasted. I don’t like wasting time, for example (though I’m glad to have learned that vacation days are not in that category).

I suspect we’ve all seen talented people waste gifts that could have been developed into something special by taking the easy way out.

We’ve seen lives wasted and families ruined by addictions that turn productive opportunities into lost years.

Today, though, I’m thinking about influence. We all have some measure of influence on the lives of others, and we shouldn’t waste it. Finding appropriate ways to use such leverage without being overbearing can be tricky, but it’s worth the effort.

I’m thinking in particular of whether we can use our influence in positive ways to encourage friends, family, and neighbors to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

No doubt, some people are so hardcore that they’ll never admit the importance of the vaccine. Many others, though, know the vaccine can save their lives and protect others – but they’re afraid to get vaccinated because of peer pressure from others.

They may live with or work with – or go to church with – people who are too misguided or too proud to admit they’re wrong about the vaccine or who somehow think getting vaccinated would be a betrayal of former president Trump (who is fully vaccinated, by the way).

A number of news outlets (here’s one) reported the story of a doctor in Missouri who said some people were coming for the vaccine wearing disguises or otherwise trying to remain unrecognized, pleading with them not to tell anyone they had been vaccinated.

Many others know getting vaccinated is the smart thing – the right thing – to do for themselves and for others, but they are afraid of being ostracized by strongly opinionated peers who would have them remain vulnerable.

It’s tempting to play the blame game, but we have to find positive ways to help friends and neighbors and fellow church members feel good, safe, and accepted enough to stand up to anti-vax bullies who endanger both them and everyone they come into contact with.

Many of those who turn up their noses at vaccination are the loudest in claiming to be patriotic – but doesn’t being a patriot mean doing what’s best for your country, even if it means taking a risk or doing something a bit sacrificial?

Too many people have confused patriotism for our country with personal demands for individual rights.

If I thought it would help, I’d propose a cheer or bumper sticker slogan: “You can be a patri-ot – just go out and get your shot!”

Bad, I know. Way short of John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Perhaps, you can think of something better. Find a way to smile and care and encourage someone you know to do their part in curbing this horrible disease – and to feel good about it.

Waste not your influence.

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