12 Rules for Life


📍 Order is where the people around you act according to well-understood social norms, and remain predictable and cooperative. It’s the world of social structure, explored territory, and familiarity. The state of Order is typically portrayed, symbolically as masculine. It’s the Wise King and the Tyrant, forever bound together, as society is simultaneously structure and oppression.

📍 Chaos, by contrast, is where—or when—something unexpected happens. Chaos emerges, in trivial form, when you tell a joke at a party with people you think you know and a silent and embarrassing chill falls over the gathering. Chaos is what emerges more catastrophically when you suddenly find yourself without employment, or are betrayed by a lover.

Order and chaos are the yang and yin of the famous Taoist symbol: two serpents, head to tail. Order is the white, masculine serpent; Chaos, its black, feminine counterpart.

The dividing line between order and chaos: that’s where we are simultaneously stable enough, exploring enough, transforming enough, repairing enough, and cooperating enough.

The black dot in the white — and the white in the black — indicate the possibility of transformation:

  • Just when things seem secure, the unknown can loom, unexpectedly and large.
  • Just when everything seems lost, new order can emerge from catastrophe and chaos.

To straddle that is to be balanced: to have one foot firmly planted in order and security, and the other in chaos, possibility, growth and adventure. Place one foot in what you have mastered and understood, and the other in what you are currently exploring and mastering.

When life suddenly reveals itself as intense, gripping and meaningful; when time passes and you’re so engrossed in what you’re doing you don’t notice - it is there and then that you are located precisely on the border between order and chaos.

Old stories contain nothing superfluous. Anything accidental - anything that does not serve the plot - has long been forgotten in the telling.

Heaven is something you must build. Immortality is something you must earn.

For the Taoists, meaning is to be found on the border between the ever-entwined pair. To walk that border is to stay on the path of life, the divine Way. And that’s much better than happiness.

🔖 I hope that these rules and their accompanying essays will help people understand what they already know: that the soul of the individual eternally hungers for the heroism of genuine Being, and that the willingness to take on that responsibility is identical to the decision to live a meaningful life.

Happiness is found on meaning — taking responsibility, is the only antidote for chaos. Adopt as much responsibility as possible for individual life, society and the world. This is how we can and must reduce the suffering that poisons the world.

Rule 1

Stand up straight with your shoulders back

🦞 Speaking of lobsters… conflict, in turn, produces another problem: how to win or lose without the disagreeing parties incurring too great a cost. If both get killed in the fight, they are at risk of a third one coming along and “taking the prize”.

High levels of serotonin and low levels of octopamine characterizes the victor. The opposite neurochemical configuration produces a defeated-looking, very likely to hang around street corners, and to vanish at the first hint of trouble.

If a dominant lobster is badly defeated, its brain basically dissolves. Then it grows a new, subordinate’s brain — one more appropriate to its new, lowly position.

Males who stay on top longer are those who form reciprocal coalitions with their lower-status compatriots, and who pay careful attention to the troupe’s females and their infants. The political ploy of baby-kissing is literally millions of years old.

It is exponentially more worthwhile to be successful: the dominant male, with his upright and confident posture, not only gets the prime real estate and easiest access to the best hunting grounds. He also gets all the girls.

📍 80 / 20

“to those who have everything, more will be given; from those who have nothing, everything will be taken.”

—— Matthew 25:29

Unequal wealth and social distribution: when the aristocracy catches a cold, as it is said, the working class dies of pneumonia. It also applies to creative work, research and book publication, music composition…

The moment we bump into someone, we immediately, inevitably, assign a status or grade from 1 to 10 of how they rank in the societal scale. Dominance hierarchies are older than trees and have been around for some half a billion years.

If you present yourself as defeated, then people will react to you as if you are losing. If you start to straighten up, then people will look at and treat you differently.

Because “nature” is “what selects,” [the longer a feature has existed](Lindy effect), the more time it has had to be selected - and to shape life.

📍 Top and bottom

When operating at the bottom, the ancient brain counter assumes that even the smallest unexpected impediment might produce an uncontrollable chain of negative events. It will render you impulsive, so that, for example, you will jump at any short-term mating opportunities, or any possibilities of pleasure, no matter how sub-par.

On the other hand, if you have a high status, mechanics assume that your niche is secure, productive and safe, and that you are well buttressed with social support. This renders you confident and calm, standing tall and straight, and much less on constant alert.

You can delay gratification, without forgoing it forever. You can afford to be a reliable and thoughtful citizen.

📍 The importance of habits and routine

The body, with its various parts, needs to function like a well-rehearsed orchestra. Every system must play its role properly, and at exactly the right time, or noise and chaos ensue. It is for this reason that routine is so necessary. The acts of life we repeat every day need to be automatized. They must be turned into stable and reliable habits, so they lose their complexity and gain predictability and simplicity.

📍 Negative loops

There are many systems of interaction between brain, body and social world that can get caught in positive feedback loops. Depressed people, for example, can start feeling useless and burdensome, as well as grief-stricken and pained. This makes them withdraw from contact with friends and family. Then the withdrawal makes them more lonesome and isolated, and more likely to feel useless and burdensome. Then they withdraw more. In this manner, depression spirals and amplifies.

📍 Stand up straight with your shoulders back

To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open. It means deciding to voluntarily transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order. It means adopting the burden of self-conscious vulnerability, and accepting the end of the unconscious paradise of childhood, where finitude and mortality are only dimly comprehended. It means willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality.

So, attend carefully to your posture. Quit drooping and hunching around. Speak your mind. Put your desires forward, as if you had a right to them — at least the same right as others. Walk tall and gaze forthrightly ahead. Encourage the serotonin to flow plentifully through the neural pathways desperate for its calming influence.

Rule 2

Treat yourself as if you were someone that you are responsible for helping

People are better at filling and properly administering prescription medication to their pets than to themselves.

People often don’t really believe that they deserve the best care. Instead of narcissistically inflating their own importance, they don’t value themselves.

It is not virtuous to be victimized by a bully, even if that bully is oneself.

Some people degenerate into the hell of resentment, but most refuse to do so.

You have to articulate your own principles, so that you can defend yourself against others’ taking inappropriate advantage of you.

You must keep the promises you make to yourself, and reward yourself, so that you can trust and motivate yourself.

Define who you are. Refine your personality.

Rule 3

Make friends with people who want the best for you

The world is a different place when it is cold like that.

📍 Freud’s Repetition Compulsion.

People create their worlds with the tools they have directly at hand. Faulty tools produce faulty results. Repeated use of the same faulty tools produce the same faulty results.

Not everyone who is failing is a victim. Not everyone at the bottom wishes to rise.

Distinguish between someone truly wanting and needing help, and someone who is merely exploiting a willing helper.

The person who tries and fails, and is forgiven, and then tries again and fails, and is forgiven, is also too often the person who wants everyone to believe in the authenticity of all that trying.

  • A boss moves a problematic person into the midst of a stellar team, hoping to improve him by example. What happens? The entire team degenerates.
  • Place a delinquent teen among comparatively civilized peers. The delinquency spreads, not the stability.

Down is a lot easier than up.

Are you enabling a delusion? Is it possible that your contempt would be more helpful than your pity?

Before you help someone, you should find out why this person is in trouble. You shouldn’t merely assume that she is a noble victim of circumstances and exploitation — this is the most unlikely explanation. It’s never been that simple.

If you buy the story that everything terrible just happened on its own, with no personal responsibility on the part of the victim, you deny that person all agency in the past (and, by implication, in the present and future, as well). In this manner, you strip him or her of all power.

It is far more likely that a given individual has just decided to reject the path upward, because of its difficulty.

Failure is easy to understand.

No explanation for its existence is required. In the same manner, fear, hatred, addiction, promiscuity, betrayal and deception. Failure is easy.

  • It’s easier not to shoulder a burden.
  • It’s easier not to think, and not to do, and not to care.
  • It’s easier to put off until tomorrow what needs to be done today.

To fail, you merely have to cultivate a few bad habits. You just have to bide your time.

Here’s something to consider: If you have a friend whose friendship you wouldn’t recommend to your sister, or your father, or your son, why would you have such a friend for yourself?

Friendship is a reciprocal arrangement: loyalty must be negotiated.

You should choose people who want things to be better, not worse. It’s a good thing, not a selfish thing, to choose people who are good for you. It’s appropriate and praiseworthy to associate with people whose lives would be improved if they saw your life improve.

People who support your upward aim will not tolerate your cynicism and destructiveness. They will instead encourage you when you do good for yourself and others and punish you carefully when you do not.

When you dare to aspire upward, you reveal the inadequacy of the present and the promise of the future.

🔖 Michelangelo’s marvel, David, cries out to its observer: you could be more than you are. When you dare aspire upward, you reveal the inadequacy of the present and the promise of the future. Then you disturb others, in the depths of their souls, where they understand that their cynicism and immobility are unjustifiable.

Don’t think that it is easier to surround yourself with good healthy people than with bad unhealthy people. It’s not. A good, healthy person is an ideal. It requires strength and daring to stand up near such a person. Have some humility. Have some courage. Use your judgment, and protect yourself from too-uncritical compassion and pity.

Rule 4

Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today

It’s easier for people to be good at something in small, rural communities.

🖇 Related to Thinking Fast And Slow and the idea that small samples will always produce more extreme results.

Large samples are more precise than small samples, which is the same to say that extreme outcomes are more likely to be found in small samples. This explanation is not causal.

Local heroes have the opportunity to enjoy the serotonin-fueled confidence of the victor. People born in small towns are statistically overrepresented among the eminent.

We are not equal in ability or outcome, and never will be. A very small number of people produce very much of everything. The winners don’t take all, but take most. And the bottom is not a good place to be. Life is a zero sum game and worthlessness is the default condition.

If the cards are always stacked against you, perhaps the game you are playing is somehow rigged - perhaps by you.

A cliché of nihilism: “In a million years, who’s going to know the difference?” The proper response to that statement is not, “Well, then, everything is meaningless.” It’s, “Any idiot can choose a frame of time within which nothing matters.” Talking yourself into irrelevance is not a profound critique of being. It’s a cheap trick of the rational mind.

The black and white distinction between success and failure (with no middle ground) is a naive, unsophisticated analysis.

The world allows for many ways of being, if you don’t succeed at one, you can try another. Even if the changing games doesn’t work, you can invent a new one. On top of that, it’s unlikely that you’re playing only one game, and you should consider your performance across all of them.

Winning at everything might only mean that you’re not doing anything new or difficult. You might be winning but you’re not growing, and growing might be the most important form of winning. Should victory in the present always take precedence over trajectory across time?

Perhaps you’re overvaluing what you don’t have, and undervaluing what you do.

Dare to be dangerous. Dare to be truthful. Dare to articulate yourself, and express what would really justify your life.

We are always and simultaneously at point “a” (which is less desirable than it could be), moving towards point “b” (which we deem better).

We live within a framework that defines the present as eternally lacking and the future as eternally better. If we did not see things this way, we would not act at all.

We suffer chronic unease and discomfort because we are always comparing “what is” with “what can be”.

The future is like the past, with one difference: the future could be better. The present might be flawed, but the place you start is not as important as the direction you’re heading.

Happiness is always found in the journey uphill, and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting at the next peak.

📍 You only see what you aim at

🖇 The idea that what you aim at determines what you see is the representation of Daniel Simons’ Gorilla experiment.

You’re a bad employee, but a worse boss. Ask yourself what you can do for you, no matter how small. Then reward yourself for that.

Five hundred little actions make your day. Are you willing to make two or three of those a little bit better today? Repeat this for three years and you’ll become an entire different, better person.

Aim small, but aim high. Then you do what you have decided to do, even if you do it badly. Then you give yourself a reward, in triumph. Maybe you feel a bit stupid about it, but you do it anyway. And you do the same thing tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. And, with each day, your baseline of comparison gets a little higher, and that’s magic. That’s compound interest.

📍Vision is expensive: to deal with the overwhelming complexity of the world, you ignore most of it, while you concentrate minutely on your private concerns. You just see the things that facilitate your moves towards your desired goals. You will detect obstacles along the way, but you are pretty much blind to everything else. And there’s a lot of everything else. And you’re very blind.

We are blinded by our desires, the rest of the world is hidden from us. If we start aiming at something different — something like “I want my life to be better” — our minds will start presenting us with new information, derived from the previously hidden world, to aid us in that pursuit.

Aim and focus to what will make Life better: aim for a better Life, not for a better office. Aim for a better Life for everybody, not just you. Wish everybody well.

What could I do, that I would do, to make Life a little better, and what small thing would I like as a reward?

Aim lower, but aim high. Search until you find something that bothers you, that you could fix, that you would fix, and then fix it. That might be enough for the day.

What do you know about yourself? On one hand, you are the most complex thing in the universe, and on the other, someone who can’t even set the clock on the microwave. Don’t overestimate yourself.

Rule 5

Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

People often get basic psychological questions backwards. Why do people take drugs? Not a mystery. It’s why they don’t take them all the time that’s the mystery. Why do people suffer from anxiety? That’s not a mystery. How is that people can ever be calm? There’s the mystery. We’re breakable and mortal. A million things can go wrong, in a million ways. We should be terrified out of our skulls at every second. But we’re not. The same can be said for depression, laziness and criminality.

Violence is the default. It’s easy. It’s peace that is difficult: learned, inculcated, earned.

Much more of our sanity than we commonly realize is a consequence of our fortunate immersion in a social community.

You can teach virtually anyone anything with such an approach. First, figure out what you want. Then, watch the people around you like a hawk. Finally, whenever you see anything a bit more like what you want, swoop in and deliver a reward.

the fundamental moral question is not how to shelter children completely from misadventure and failure, so they never experience any fear or pain, but how to maximize their learning so that useful knowledge may be gained with minimal cost.

Two general principles of discipline:

  1. Limit the rules.
  2. Use the least force necessary to enforce those rules.

Rule 6

Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world

It is possible to learn good by experiencing evil — the majority of people who were abused as children do not abuse their own children.

Success makes us complacent. We forget to pay attention. We take what we have for granted. We turn a blind eye. We fail to notice that things are changing, or that corruption is taking root. And everything falls apart. Is that the fault of reality — of God? Or do things fall apart because we have not paid sufficient attention?

If it’s her fault, she might be able to do something about it. If it’s God’s fault, however — if reality itself is flawed — then she is doomed.

A hurricane is an act of God. But failure to prepare, when the necessity for preparation is well known — that’s sin. That’s failure to hit the mark. And the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

Have you cleaned up your life? If the answer is no, here’s something to try: start to stop doing what you know to be wrong. Start stopping today. Don’t waste time questioning how you know that what you’re doing is wrong, if you are certain that it is.

  • Have you taken full advantage of the opportunities offered to you?
  • Do you have habits that are destroying your health and well-being?
  • Are you truly shouldering your responsibilities?

Every person is too complex to understand themselves completely and contains wisdom that we can’t comprehend.

Say only those things that make you strong. Do only those things that you can speak up with honor. You can use your own standards of judgement, you can rely on yourself for guidance.

Life is short and you don’t have time to figure everything out on your own — the wisdom of the past was ancestors was hard earned, and your ancestors might have something useful to tell you.

Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?

Who knows what existence might be like if we all strived for the best.

Rule 7

Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient

There is little difference between sacrifice and work. They are also both uniquely human.

The discovery of the causal relationship between our efforts today and the quality of tomorrow motivated the social contract — the organization that enables today’s work to be stored, reliably, mostly in the form of promises from others.

The successful among us succeed because delay gratification. The successful among us bargain with the future. The successful sacrifice.

It takes a long time to learn to keep anything later for yourself. You are sharing with your future self.

To share does not mean to give away something you value, and get nothing back. To share means, properly, to initiate the process of trade.

Benjamin Franklin once suggested that a newcomer to a neighborhood ask a new neighbor to do him or her a favor. The latter could now ask the former for a favor, in return, because of the debt incurred, increasing their mutual familiarity and trust. In that manner both parties could overcome their natural hesitancy and mutual fear of the stranger.

If the world you are seeing is not the world you want, therefore, it’s time to examine your values. It’s time to rid yourself of your current presuppositions. It’s time to let go. It might even be time to sacrifice what you love best, so that you can become who you might become, instead of staying who you are.

No tree can grow to Heaven, adds the ever-terrifying Carl Gustav Jung, psychoanalyst extraordinaire, unless its roots reach down to hell.

The fact that automobiles pollute only becomes a problem of sufficient magnitude to attract public attention when the far worse problems that the internal combustion engine solves has vanished from view. People stricken with poverty don’t care about carbon dioxide.

Aim up. Pay attention. Fix what you can fix. Don’t be arrogant in your knowledge. Strive for humility, because totalitarian pride manifests itself in intolerance, oppression, torture and death. Become aware of your own insufficiency — your cowardice, malevolence, resentment and hatred. Consider the murderousness of your own spirit before you dare accuse others, and before you attempt to repair the fabric of the world. Maybe it’s not the world that’s at fault. Maybe it’s you. You’ve failed to make the mark. You’ve missed the target. You’ve fallen short of the glory of God. You’ve sinned. And all of that is your contribution to the insufficiency and evil of the world. And, above all, don’t lie. Don’t lie about anything, ever.

To have meaning in your life is better than to have what you want, because you may neither know what you want, nor what you truly need. Meaning is something that comes upon you, of its own accord. You can set up the preconditions, you can follow meaning, when it manifests itself, but you cannot simply produce it, as an act of will.

What is expedient works only for the moment. It’s immediate, impulsive and limited. What is meaningful, by contrast, is the organization of what would otherwise merely be expedient into a symphony of Being.

Once you have placed “make the world better” at the top of your value hierarchy, you experience ever-deepening meaning. It’s how you make amends for the pathology of history.

There is no faith and no courage and no sacrifice in doing what is expedient.

Rule 8

Tell the truth or at least don’t lie

I soon came to realize that almost everything I said was untrue. I had motives for saying these things: I wanted to win arguments and gain status and impress people and get what I wanted. I was using language to bend and twist the world into delivering what I thought was necessary. But I was a fake. Realizing this, I started to practice only saying things that the internal voice would not object to. I started to practice telling the truth — or, at least, not lying. I soon learned that such a skill came in very handy when I didn’t know what to do.

What should you do, when you don’t know what to do? Tell the truth.

📍 Acting politically: it is the speech people engage in to manipulate others, it is what university students do when they write an essay to please the professor instead of articulating and clarifying their own ideas, it is what everybody does when they want something and decide to falsify themselves to please and flatter […]. This is known as a “life lie” attempting to manipulate reality with perception, thought and action. People define their utopia and then bend their lives into knots trying to make it reality.

Defining reality with and only the current knowledge of the world: an eighteen-year-old decides, arbitrarily, that she wants to retire at fifty-two. She works for three decades to make that happen, failing to notice that she made that decision when she was little more than a child. What did she know about her fifty-two-year-old self, when still a teenager?

Oversimplification and falsification is particularly typical of ideologues. They adopt a single axiom: government is bad, immigration is bad, capitalism is bad, patriarchy is bad. Then they filter and screen their experiences and insist ever more narrowly that everything can be explained by that axiom.

  • Sin of commission: you do something you know to be wrong.
  • Sin of omission: you let something bad happen when you could do something to stop it.

Imagine being at work, and somebody imposes an unfair rule, one you don’t agree with — but you decide not to say anything, you accept it and think that “it doesn’t matter”. You don’t want to confront the situation and prefer to yield. By doing this, you’re making a statement, and perpetuating and allowing more events like this to come in the future. This has an impact on your being as well, if you will not reveal yourself to others, so much of what you could be will never be forced by necessity to come forward.

If you have a weak character, then adversity will mow you down when it appears.

However, researchers have recently discovered that new genes in the central nervous system turn themselves on when an organism is placed (or places itself) in a new situation. These genes code for new proteins. These proteins are the building blocks for new structures in the brain. This means that a lot of you is still nascent, in the most physical of senses, and will not be called forth by stasis. You have to say something, go somewhere and do things to get turned on. And, if not… you remain incomplete, and life is too hard for anyone incomplete.

The mind is its own place place, and in itself can make the heaven of hell, and the hell of heaven.

We must make decisions, everyone needs a concrete, specific goal — an ambition, and a purpose. An aim provides a destination, the structure necessary for action, a point of contrast against the present, and a framework, within which all things can be evaluated. An aim defines progress and makes such progress exciting. If you have no aim everything can mean anything or nothing.

You are by no means only what you already know. You are also all that which you could know, if you only would. Thus, you should never sacrifice what you could be for what you are. You should never give up the better that resides within for the security you already have — and certainly not when you have already caught a glimpse, an undeniable glimpse, of something beyond.

Set your ambitions, even if you are uncertain of what they should be. The best ambitions have to do with character and ability, rather than status and power. Status you can lose. You carry character with you wherever you go. It allow you to prevail against adversity.

If your life is not what it could be, try telling the truth. If you cling desperately to an ideology, or wallow in nihilism, try telling the truth. If you feel weak and rejected, and desperate, and confused, try telling the truth. In Paradise, everyone speaks the truth. That is what makes it Paradise. Tell the truth. Or, at least, don’t lie.

Rule 9

Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you need to know

Advice is what you get when the person you’re talking with about something horrible and complicated wishes you would just shut up and go away. Advice is what you get when the person you are talking to wants to revel in the superiority of his or her own intelligence.

It is amazing what people will tell you if you listen.

Error necessitates sacrifice to correct it. Every bit of learning is a little death. Every bit of new information challenges a previous conception, forcing it to dissolve into chaos before it can be reborn as something better.

There is no such thing as knowing the objective truth, and there never would be. There is no such thing as an objective observer, and there never would be. There is no complete and accurate story.

Memory is not a description of the objective past. Memory is a tool. Memory is the past’s guide to the future. If you remember that something bad happened, and you can figure out why, then you can try to avoid that bad thing happening again.

“This is what happened. This is why. This is what I have to do to avoid such things from now on”: That’s a successful memory. That’s the purpose of memory. It’s not “to remember the past.” It’s to stop the same damn thing from happening over and over.

Carl Rogers wrote, “The great majority of us cannot listen; we find ourselves compelled to evaluate, because listening is too dangerous.”

If you listen, instead, without premature judgment, people will generally tell you everything they are thinking — and with very little deceit. People will tell you the most amazing, absurd, interesting things. Very few of your conversations will be boring. You can in fact tell whether or not you are actually listening in this manner. If the conversation is boring, you probably aren’t.

📍 Conversation of mutual exploration: it allows all participants to express and organize their thoughts, everybody participating is trying to solve a problem, instead of insisting of a priori validity of their own ideas. All are acting on the premise that they have something to learn.

It constitutes active philosophy, the higher form of thought and the best preparation for better living.

It makes a better friend of the unknown rather than the known. You already know what you know, and unless your life is perfect, what you know is not enough. You remain threaten by disease, self-deception, unhappiness, limitation…

If you knew more, if you just knew enough, you’d be happier, healthier, wiser, more honest, you would suffer less. However your current knowledge hasn’t neither made you perfect or kept you safe, so it is insufficient by definition.

Remember that what you do not yet know is more important than what you already know.

When somebody shares their conclusions with you, you can bypass some of the pain of personally learning those things.

Meditate as you converse instead of strategizing towards victory. Don’t be in the conversation just seeking validation, being right or get your point across — if you do that, you’re just repeating what you already believe.

Tell the speaker what are you learning from their conclusions, report what this information has done to you, how it has changed you. Rephrase their thoughts as you speak and build shared knowledge from there. Then you both move towards somewhere newer, broader, better. You both change as you let your presuppositions die.

Listen, your wisdom consists not only to knowledge you already have, but from the continual search for knowledge. Which is the highest form of wisdom.

Rule 10

Be precise in your speech

If you leave things vague, then this makes the world too complex to be managed.

Situations, most things in life, show their complexity when they fail or cease to work.

If you identify things, with careful attention and language, you bring them forward as viable, obedient objects, detaching them from their underlying near-universal interconnectedness. You simplify them. You make them specific and useful, and reduce their complexity.

When things break down, what has been ignored rushes in. When things are no longer specified, with precision, the walls crumble, and chaos makes its presence known. When we’ve been careless, and let things slide, what we have refused to attend to gathers itself up, adopts a serpentine form, and strikes — often at the worst possible moment. It is then that we see what focused intent, precision of aim and careful attention protects us from.

Chaos emerges in a household, bit by bit. Mutual unhappiness and resentment pile up. Everything untidy is swept under the rug, where the dragon feasts on the crumbs. But no one says anything.

Something is out there in the woods. You know that with certainty. But often it’s only a squirrel. If you refuse to look, however, then it’s a dragon, and you’re no knight: you’re a mouse confronting a lion; a rabbit, paralyzed by the gaze of a wolf. And I am not saying that it’s always a squirrel. Often it’s something truly terrible. But even what is terrible in actuality often pales in significance compared to what is terrible in imagination.

You must determine where you have been in your life, so that you can know where you are now. Otherwise you can’t get to where you’re going.

Say what you mean, so you can find out what you mean. Act out what you say, so you can find out what happens. Then pay attention. Note your errors. Articulate them. Strive to correct them.

Confront the chaos of Being. Take aim against a sea of troubles. Specify your destination, and chart your course. Admit to what you want. Tell those around you who you are. Narrow, and gaze attentively, and move forward, forthrightly. Be precise in your speech.

Rule 11

Do not bother children when they are skateboarding

Of course it was dangerous. Danger was the point. They wanted to triumph over danger. They would have been safer in protective equipment, but that would have ruined it. They weren’t trying to be safe. They were trying to become competent — and it’s competence that makes people as safe as they can truly be.

When untrammeled — and encouraged — we prefer to live on the edge. There, we can still be both confident in our experience and confronting the chaos that helps us develop. We’re hard-wired, for that reason, to enjoy risk. We feel invigorated and excited when we work to optimize our future performance, while playing in the present. Otherwise we lumber around, sloth-like, unconscious, unformed and careless. Overprotected, we will fail when something dangerous, unexpected and full of opportunity suddenly makes its appearance, as it inevitably will.

You must also know clearly what you want out of the situation, and be prepared to clearly articulate your desire.

Make your request as small and reasonable as possible - but ensure that its fulfillment would satisfy you. Come to the discussion with a solution, instead of just a problem.

It’s a good idea to tell the person you are confronting exactly what you would like them to do instead of what they have done or currently are doing. Assume ignorance before malevolence. No one has a direct pipeline to your wants and needs — not even you.

If you cannot understand why someone did something, look at the consequences - and infer the motivation.

The planet is harder on us than we are on it. We could cut ourselves some slack.

📍 Women and mating

Girls can win by winning in their own hierarchy — by being good at what girls value, as girls. They can add to this victory by winning in the boys’ hierarchy. Boys, however, can only win by winning in the male hierarchy. They will lose status, among girls and boys, by being good at what girls value. It costs them in reputation among the boys, and in attractiveness among the girls.

The byproduct of this dynamic is that, in the long run and aside from STEM, universities will be populated mainly by women.

Women have a strong proclivity to marry across or up the economic hierarchy. They prefer a partner of equally or higher status. The same does not hold true for men, yet they show a preference for younger mates. Because of this, inevitably, marriage is something reserved for the rich.

The unemployable men is an undesirable species. A woman should not look after a man, because she must look after children, and a man should not be a child.

If they’re healthy, women don’t want boys. They want men. They want someone to contend with; someone to grapple with. If they’re tough, they want someone tougher. If they’re smart, they want someone smarter. They desire someone who brings to the table something they can’t already provide. This often makes it hard for tough, smart, attractive women to find mates: there just aren’t that many men around who can outclass them enough to be considered desirable.

In 1847, Scottish obstetrician James Young Simpson was the first to demonstrate the anesthetic properties of chloroform on humans. The first baby delivered under the effects of chloroform was called Anesthesia.

📍 Culture, hierarchy and inequality of outcome

Culture takes with one hand, but in some fortunate places, it gives with the other.

Consider this, as well, in regard to oppression: any hierarchy creates winners and losers. The winners are, of course, more likely to justify the hierarchy and the losers to criticize it. But (1) the collective pursuit of any valued goal produces a hierarchy (as some will be better and some worse at that pursuit not matter what it is) and (2) it is the pursuit of goals that in large part lends life its sustaining meaning.

We experience success and meaning in life as a consequence of moving towards something deeply desired and valued. The price we pay for that involvement is the inevitable creation of hierarchies of success, while the inevitable consequence is the inequality of outcome. But that’s not a bad thing, since you can “play” and “win” in different games.

In societies that are well-functioning competence, not power, is a prime determiner of status. Competence. Ability. Skill. Not power. This is obvious both anecdotally and factually. The most valid personality trait predictors of long-term success in Western countries are intelligence (as measured with cognitive ability or IQ tests) and conscientiousness (a trait characterized by industriousness and orderliness).

Rule 12

Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

Imagine a being who is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. What does such a being lack? Limitation. If you are already everything, everywhere, always, there is nowhere to go and nothing to be. Everything that could be, already is. And everything that could happen, already has. And it is for this reason that God created man.

A super hero who can do anything turns out to be no hero at all. He’s nothing specific, so he’s nothing. He has nothing to strive against, so he can’t be admirable. Being of any admirable sort seems to require limitation. Perhaps this is because being requires becoming, and to become is to become something more or at least something different.

When you love someone, it’s not despite their limitations. It’s because of their limitations.

Set aside some time to talk and to think about the illness or other crisis and how it should be managed every day. Do not talk or think about it otherwise. If you do not limit its effect, you will become exhausted, and everything will spiral into the ground. This is not helpful. Conserve your strength. You’re in a war, not a battle, and a war is composed of many battles. You must stay functional through all of them. When worries associated with the crisis arise at other times, remind yourself that you will think them through, during the scheduled period.

And maybe when you are going for a walk and your head is spinning a cat will show up and if you pay attention to it then you will get a reminder for just fifteen seconds that the wonder of Being might make up for the ineradicable suffering that accompanies it. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.

First published on October 13, 2018