10 Rules of Life

10 Rules of Life March 8, 2018

Years ago, in the early days of the internet, there was a great site called Global Ideas Bank that was a clearing house for creative ideas to improve society. I can’t find it anymore (though a blog has picked up the idea), but one of the ideas cataloged there was a collection of rules about life. I’d like to pass those rules on with a few of my own.

These rules are rather contrarian. Instead of wise bits of encouragement or a pat on the head, this is tough-love advice that assumes that dealing squarely with reality is the best approach. Each ends with an implied “that’s life—deal with it.”

I’ve added a few comments and quotes.

1. You can’t make people like you. “I can’t give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time” (Herbert Bayard Swope).

2. There is no way of getting all you want. Admire without desiring. “My riches consist not in the extent of my possessions but in the fewness of my wants” (J. Brotherton).

3. The world is not fair. “Expecting life to treat you well because you are a good person is like expecting an angry bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian” (Shari Barr).

4. Being good often doesn’t pay off. Make good its own reward. “The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it” (General Norman Schwarzkopf).

5. There is no compensation for misfortune. Life isn’t fair, and it doesn’t owe you anything.

6. We don’t control most things. “Risk taking is inherently failure-prone. Otherwise, it would be called sure-thing-taking” (Tim McMahon).

7. All important decisions are made on the basis of insufficient data. “He who postpones the hour of living is like the rustic who waits for the river to run out before he crosses” (Horace).

8. Each of us is ultimately alone. There is no supernatural friend who is looking out for you, smoothing the way. This can terrify you, or it can empower you. “The most important things, each man must do for himself” (Sheldon Kopp).

9. When you die, that’s it. “Things work out best for those who make the best out of the way things work out.”

10. Most of us in the West are greatly privileged compared to people living in the rest of the world. It’s human nature to complain and look for more, but it is helpful to look up occasionally to appreciate how you fit into the big picture.

A Christian list would typically be more optimistic, and coming from that worldview, I can see how these rules might seem discouraging. To me, however, they simply seem to be a straightforward distillation of reality. It’s better to see life accurately, warts and all, than to live in a delusion.

I like optimistic advice, but I like realistic advice, too. What similar advice would you give as a bracing dose of reality?

Clothes make the man. 
Naked people have little or no influence in society.
— Mark Twain

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 7/9/14.)

Image via Enric Martinez, CC license


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  • Ctharrot

    An excuse to post one of my favorite Stoic quotes from one of my favorite Stoics.

    “Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”–Marcus Aurelius

    • ThaneOfDrones

      “Had I been present at the Creation, I would have given some useful advice for the better ordering of the universe.”
      Alphonso the Wise

  • Doubting Thomas

    Read Walden by Thoreau. Implement a modern version of said book.

  • quinsha

    People have the right to be wrong, including yourself. What matters is what you do when you find out that you are wrong.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2
      • Lark62

        My father always said “Remember these 3 little words: Don’t Argue.” ☺

      • Phil Rimmer

        Best most productive advice here.

    • RichardSRussell

      She: Oh, Honey, please tell me the 3 little words that a girl just loves to hear more than anything else!

      He: You were right!

  • sandy

    “Go ugly early and beat the rush” Sandman

  • epicurus

    #1 has, I assume, an implied “all” before “people.” A smile and pleasant disposition even if you don’t always feel it goes a long way to increasing the number of people who like you.

  • JustAnotherAtheist2

    In college I stumbled upon this life-altering quote,

    “You wouldn’t worry about what people thought of you if you knew how seldom they actually did.”

    Most everyone I shared it with found it depressing, but I found it liberating and empowering. It was exactly what a sad, overwhelmed kid needed to hear at the time.

    • I heard that idea expressed this way: when I was 20, I worried what other people thought and said about me. When I was 40, I decided that I didn’t care what they thought or said about me. And when I was 60, I realized that nobody was thinking or saying much about me in the first place.

      Yours has the benefit of brevity.

    • Chuck Johnson

      Or how about:
      “You wouldn’t worry about what people thought of you if you knew how crazy their perceptions actually are.”

    • Lark62

      Another that some think is depressing but isn’t: I feel so much better since I gave up hope.

    • ThaneOfDrones

      Why be normal?

  • Michael Neville

    Expect the worst. You’ll never be disappointed and you will occasionally be pleasantly surprised.

  • Otto

    Being a Doctor just means you passed.

    • (Half of doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class.)

      • Chuck Johnson

        Four out of five doctors would agree with that !

        • TheMountainHumanist

          …but I play one on TV

    • Philmonomer

      If the minimum wasn’t good enough, it wouldn’t be the minimum.

      • Otto

        That isn’t the point. The point is not to give people undue or unconditional respect, as we humans are all to willing to do.

        • Liya

          Right, especially to those already in authority.
          Yet occasionally giving it to someone as means of encouragement, support and to help them to get back on their feet it ‘s a decent tactic.

  • JP415

    “I believe in optimism, but it must be a mature optimism that engages with pessimism at each step and counters it. It is easier to live in a fool’s paradise than a wise man’s purgatory.”
    — ??? Some philosopher (read it a collection of essays that I can’t find)

  • axially/tilted

    That which doesn’t kill us just hasn’t been given sufficient time.

    • Michael Neville

      That which doesn’t kill me has made a tactical error. –Seventy Maxims of Highly Effective Mercenaries (Schlock Mercenary webcomic)

      My favorite maxim is: The enemy of my enemy is my enemy’s enemy. No more. No less.

      • epicurus

        Think of all the cold war blowback we might have been spared if the superpowers would have followed your favorite maxim.

      • Lark62

        On a grave stone.

        Here lies Lester Moore. No Les No More

        • Les Nesmond was the boring news guy on the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati. One of the DJs announced him with “WKRP in Cincinnati, with more music and Les Nesmond!”

        • Otto

          “Something just came out of the back of a helicopter. It’s a dark object, perhaps a skydiver plummeting to the earth from only two thousand feet in the air… There’s a third… No parachutes yet… Those can’t be skydivers. I can’t tell just yet what they are but… Oh my God! They’re turkeys! Oh no! Johnny can you get this? Oh, they’re crashing to the earth right in front of our eyes! One just went through the windshield of a parked car! This is terrible! Everyone’s running around pushing each other. Oh my goodness! Oh, the humanity! People are running about. The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement!”

          Best episode.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower
        • ThaneOfDrones

          Not as original as you think though. Look into The Rutabaga Story episode of Green Acres (1968).

        • Otto

          Did Oliver think Rutabagas could fly?

        • JP415

          I vaguely remember that one. Hadn’t thought about it in years.

        • TheMountainHumanist

          As god is my witness…I thought turkeys could fly.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      In one my songs (about a divorcee going through the motions) I went with this variation:

      “That which doesn’t kill you, you wish it had.”

  • Michael Neville

    Just because something is easy for you doesn’t mean it’s not hard for someone else.

  • Otto

    When it comes to your important close interpersonal relationships, whatever topic is the most difficult to talk about is exactly what you should be talking about.

  • RichardSRussell

    “Lead me to those who seek the truth, and deliver me from those who have found it.”

    “Men are from Earth. Women are from Earth. Deal with it.”

    “I believe in free will because, really, what choice do I have?”

  • RichardSRussell

    “Intelligence is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable. Wisdom is knowing better than to put it in a fruit salad.”

    • ThaneOfDrones

      That’s not intelligence, that’s knowledge.

      • RichardSRussell

        You are technically correct, but it kinda spoils the joke.

    • Michael Neville

      Tomatoes are actually berries, as are bananas.

  • Kevin K

    11. When given a difficult choice, have the chicken.

    • Greg G.

      …unless there are several peppers next to it on the menu.

      • Kevin K

        ESPECIALLY when there are several peppers next to it. Love me some hot chicken.

        Although there are limits. There is a “hot chicken shack” in my neck of the woods … their “mild” is equivalent in heat to a “Buffalo” wing (Tabasco pepper). I’ve only been able to work my way up to “medium”, which is two levels above “mild” (there is a “mildium” in the middle). The “Hot” is just a skosh too much for me, and there are three levels above THAT!

        But all of the chain places? Buffalo Wild Wings, et al? Meh. Nothing even remotely dangerous.

    • RichardSRussell

      Not after you’ve read Maryn McKenna’s book Big Chicken.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      NEVER ask what’s in a dish you’ve tried and like but have doubts about the ingredient list.

      • Kevin K

        “Just try it…it’s good!”

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          A flask and a half of warm sake was what got me to try sushi & sashimi.

          I love it now.

        • Greg G.

          I had some warm sake in NYC and ate the sauteed chicken buttholes when they were brought to the table. About a month ago, in a restaurant in Saigon, I had boiled chicken butts for breakfast, even before I had coffee.

        • Otto
        • Kodie

          Guess what?

        • Greg G.


          What has four letters, sometimes 9 letters, but never has 5 letters.

        • Kodie

          This video spans boring to interesting to gruesome (Susan don’t watch after 4:15) to hopeful. I usually get annoyed at videos where speakers explain shit like announcers or whatever broadcasting voice this guy is doing, plus the pretense of credibility because of British accent (y’all UK people know Americans are stupid enough to think British accents make someone automatically smarter, plus glasses, even smarter. (I also hate videos of people drawing shit they’re talking about). The history of the phrase is not excessively dull. I just hate the voice going up and down like a broadcaster, as if that adds any credibility either.
          Lol, I get your joke.

        • Greg G.

          Thanks for the video. The “Guess what. Chicken butt” didn’t come to mind but the video reminded me that I did hear it at some time in my history.

          I just hate the voice going up and down like a broadcaster, as if that adds any credibility either.

          I don’t like to listen to local news on TV anymore because of the weird cadences and word emphasis. Now there are some ads on the radio and TV with even weirder word emphasis. There seems to be a theory in new, sports talk and ads that moving the hands while talking makes for better television. Maybe I am getting old and cranky.

        • Kodie

          You mentioned chicken butts in two different posts and it didn’t ring a bell when I asked?

        • Greg G.

          No, it wasn’t a thing when I was a kid. I recall some kid laughing his head off each time he said it, but that was twenty or thirty years ago. For all I knew, the kid made it up. It’s like a commercial I saw last night where the teenage son is listening to a rap song in the car and his father asked what a lyric meant. Then a guy in the back seat leans forward and explains it, then, I suppose it was the rap singer who leaned forward. I lost track of new slang when I was in the Air Force and have never caught up.

        • Michael Neville

          I first ate sushi stone cold sober. I’ll try anything once…except insects. I won’t eat insects even when drunk (and I haven’t been drunk in over 40 years).

        • Greg G.

          I tried roasted crickets. I ordered a beer to wash it down in case I didn’t like it but it tasted good. I had two more. I would have had another but they were all gone. The woman we were traveling with took her daughter on a similar trip a few years later. Her daughter posted a video of her eating a cricket but she said it tasted bad. Her mother agreed that those crickets were not as good as the ones we had. The crickets I ate were brown while the one she ate was black.

        • Ctharrot

          Ate a handful of carmelized crickets for a snack in Pusan back in the day. Not bad, but I don’t see their US sales overtaking Raisinettes anytime soon.

        • Kodie
        • Greg G.

          I spit out the clothes that one cricket was wearing.

        • Michael Neville

          You may have my share of roasted, fried, baked, boiled or otherwise cooked crickets, either brown, black, aquamarine or polka dotted. Bon appetit!

          [Rinses mouth with Johnny Walker Gold to get rid of even the suspicion of eating bugs.]

        • Greg G.

          If a person can eat lobster, shrimp, and crab, the next step is land bugs.

        • Michael Neville
        • Greg G.

          That takes me back.

        • Michael Neville

          I mentioned posting that commercial to my wife and daughter. The wife recognized it as soon as I said, “Try it, you’ll like it”, and the daughter had no idea what I was talking about.

        • Greg G.

          I can’t believe I remembered the whole thing.

    • TheMountainHumanist

      leave the pistol..take the cannoli

  • Philmonomer

    Great advice. Thanks.

  • Otto T. Goat

    11. Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.

    • TheNuszAbides

      a fair logical extension of “expect the worst”.

  • TheMountainHumanist

    1. Never play leapfrog with a unicorn

    2. To you, you’re kids are smart and good looking — most people could care less about your kids and are not impressed by them.

    3. If you think you’re teenagers are not sexually active, using profanity, trying booze or watching porn, you are very deluded.

    4. Never assume you know where someone is coming from….

    5. Always ask for data before accepting an unusual claim.

    6. What is best in life is to crush your enemies; see them driven before you and to hear the lamentations of their women.

    7. Sunscreen

    • Greg G.

      8. If somebody offers you a breath mint, take it and don’t ask questions.

      • Otto

        9. I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

        • And I’d rather have lobsters in my piano than crabs on my organ, but you don’t see me blabbing about it in public.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          THAT, sir, wins you the Internet for the *weekend*!!!


        • RichardSRussell

          I’ve heard a more elaborate version of that that goes “I’d rather have a free bottle in front of me than a prefrontal lobotomy.”

  • SparklingMoon,

    “Courtesy costs nothing, but buys everything.”

    “Surely silence can sometimes be the most eloquent reply.”

    “Dislike in yourself what you dislike in others.”

    “Patience ensures victory.”

    “The best deed of a great man is to forgive and forget.”

    “A wise man always has something to say, whereas a fool always needs to say something.”

    “Life consists of two days, one for you one against you. So when it’s for you don’t be proud or reckless, and when it’s against you be patient, for both days are test for you.”

    “Do not let your difficulties fill you with anxiety, after all it is only in the darkest nights that stars shine more brightly.” (Sayings of Hazrat Ali Ibn Abu-Talib (as)

  • Clint W. (Thought2Much)

    – Tracer fire works both ways.
    – If it looks stupid, but it works, then it ain’t stupid.
    – Bridges freeze before road surfaces.
    – All of your dysfunctional relationships have one thing in common: you.
    – When cryptography is outlawed, bayl bhgynjf jvyy unir cevinpl +++§º••§∞›Ô˚˚=Ï‹¶∞§+++

    • Kevin K

      My father was a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) assistant in WWII. The BAR assistant was the guy in charge of the ammunition. Hauling it, feeding it into the rifle, etc. The average life-span of a BAR assistant in WWII was 2 days. TWO DAYS!! My dad was front-line … his unit actually held the record for longest number of days on the line without relief. He joined his unit in August of 1944 and was there through the end of the European conflict. He earned a Bronze Star, and would tell you that the guys at the Battle of the Bulge had an easy time of it compared to what his unit went through.

      The reason I am here at all is that his BAR operator insisted that my dad go through the ammunition each night and remove the tracer bullets. I shit you not.

    • Michael Neville

      ● Mad science means never stopping to ask “what’s the worst that could happen?”
      ● “Do you have a backup?” means “I can’t fix this.”
      ● Pillage, then burn.

  • RichardSRussell

    Rules for Men

    1. It’s important to have a woman who helps at home, cooks from time to time, cleans up, and has a job.

    2. It’s important to have a woman who can make you laff.

    3. It’s important to have a woman whom you can trust and doesn’t lie to you.

    4. It’s important to have a woman who is good in bed and likes to be with you.

    5. It’s very, very important that these 4 women do not know each other.

  • Ignorant Amos

    Never eat yellow snow.

    • Greg G.

      Watch out where the Huskies go,
      And don’t you eat that yellow snow.
        –Frank Zappa

  • J.B.

    If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…. and come back as a freak’n sock puppet…

  • Greg G.

    A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay means you do just enough work to keep from getting fired and they pay you just enough to keep you from quitting.