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.
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?
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