12 Rules for Life
- It’s appropriate and praiseworthy to associate with people whose lives would be improved if they saw your life improve.
- Michelangelo’s great perfect marble David cries out to its observers: “You could be more than you are.”
- In case your internal voice makes you doubt the value of your endeavors, maybe it’s time to stop listen?
- Ask yourself for voluntary contribution, what would you be willing to do?
Pay attention to what bothers you.
- Could you fix it?
- Would you be willing to fix it?
- Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.
- You have to say something, go somewhere, and do things, to get turned on. Otherwise you remain incomplete.
- Don’t say yes when it’s clearly time to say no.
- When you say untrue things you weaken your character.
- Don’t be a judge of the human race — cut yourself some slack.
- “What have I done wrong, and what can I do now to set things at least a little bit right?”
- Tomorrow, to to do as much good possible in the shortest period of time.
Some things that are most real (such as the ever-present dominance hierarchy) cannot be “seen” at all.
The forces of tyranny expand inexorably to fill the space made available for their existence.
People who refuse to muster appropriately self-protective territorial responses are laid open to exploitation as much as those who genuinely can’t stand up for their own rights because of a more essential inability or a true imbalance in power.
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.
Chaos is where we are when we don’t know where we are, and what we are doing when we don’t know what we are doing. It is, in short, all those things and situations we neither know nor understand.
You can’t long tolerate being swamped and overwhelmed beyond your capacity to cope while you are learning what you still need to know. Thus, you need to place one foot in what you have mastered and understood and the other in what you are currently exploring and mastering. Then you have positioned yourself where the terror of existence is under control and you are secure, but where you are also alert and engaged. That is where there is something new to master and some way that you can be improved. That is where meaning is to be found.
And even if it were possible to permanently banish everything threatening—everything dangerous (and, therefore, everything challenging and interesting)—that would mean only that another danger would emerge: that of permanent human infantilism and absolute uselessness.
How could the nature of man ever reach its full potential without challenge and danger?
Beauty shames the ugly. Strength shames the weak. Death shames the living—and the Ideal shames us all.
Thank God for John von Neumann! Thank God for Grace Kelly and Anita Ekberg and Monica Bellucci! I’m proud to feel unworthy in the presence of people like that. It’s the price we all pay for aim, achievement and ambition.
Faulty tools produce faulty results. Repeated use of the same faulty tools produces the same faulty results. It is in this manner that those who fail to learn from the past doom themselves to repeat it. It’s partly fate. It’s partly inability. It’s partly…unwillingness to learn? Refusal to learn?
How do you know that your attempts to pull someone up won’t instead bring them—or you—further down?
Maybe your misery is your attempt to prove the world’s injustice, instead of the evidence of your own sin, your own missing of the mark, your conscious refusal to strive and to live.
Friendship is a reciprocal arrangement. You are not morally obliged to support someone who is making the world a worse place. Quite the opposite. You should choose people who want things to be better, not worse.
It’s appropriate and praiseworthy to associate with people whose lives would be improved if they saw your life improve.
Michelangelo’s great perfect marble David cries out to its observer: “You could be more than you are.”
If the internal voice makes you doubt the value of your endeavours—or your life, or life itself—perhaps you should stop listening.
Talking yourself into irrelevance is not a profound critique of Being. It’s a cheap trick of the rational mind.
There are many games and, more specifically, many good games—games that match your talents, involve you productively with other people, and sustain and even improve themselves across time. Lawyer is a good game. So is plumber, physician, carpenter, or schoolteacher. The world allows for many ways of Being.
Your colleague outperforms you at work. His wife, however, is having an affair, while your marriage is stable and happy. Who has it better? The celebrity you admire is a chronic drunk driver and bigot. Is his life truly preferable to yours?
When you have something to say, silence is a lie—and tyranny feeds on lies.
Be cautious when you’re comparing yourself to others. You’re a singular being, once you’re an adult.
We are always and simultaneously at point “a” (which is less desirable than it could be), moving towards point “b” (which we deem better, in accordance with our explicit and implicit values).
What you aim at determines what you see.
“What could I do, that I would do, to make Life a little better?”
There is evil to overcome, suffering to ameliorate, and yourself to better.
The Sermon on the Mount outlines the true nature of man, and the proper aim of mankind: concentrate on the day, so that you can live in the present, and attend completely and properly to what is right in front of you—but do that only after you have decided to let what is within shine forth, so that it can justify Being and illuminate the world.
Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.
Children are damaged when those charged with their care, afraid of any conflict or upset, no longer dare to correct them, and leave them without guidance.
If a child has not been taught to behave properly by the age of four, it will forever be difficult for him or her to make friends.
Every child knows the difference between being bitten by a mean, unprovoked dog and being nipped by his own pet when he tries playfully but too carelessly to take its bone.
Parents have a duty to act as proxies for the real world—merciful proxies, caring proxies—but proxies, nonetheless.
the world is revealed, to an indeterminate degree, through the template of your values
Make that an axiom: to the best of my ability I will act in a manner that leads to the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering.
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?
A naively formulated goal transmutes, with time, into the sinister form of the life-lie. One forty-something client told me his vision, formulated by his younger self: “I see myself retired, sitting on a tropical beach, drinking margaritas in the sunshine.” That’s not a plan. That’s a travel poster.
If you betray yourself, if you say untrue things, if you act out a lie, you weaken your character.
Willful blindness is the refusal to know something that could be known.
You remember the old joke: insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.
Someone power-hungry makes a new rule at your workplace. It’s unnecessary. It’s counterproductive. It’s an irritant. It removes some of the pleasure and meaning from your work. But you tell yourself it’s all right. It’s not worth complaining about. Then it happens again. You’ve already trained yourself to allow such things, by failing to react the first time. You’re a little less courageous. Your opponent, unopposed, is a little bit stronger. The institution is a little bit more corrupt. The process of bureaucratic stagnation and oppression is underway, and you’ve contributed, by pretending that it was OK. Why not complain? Why not take a stand? If you do, other people, equally afraid to speak up, may come to your defence. And if not—maybe it’s time for a revolution. Maybe you should find a job somewhere else, where your soul is less in danger from corruption.
That is what totalitarian means: Everything that needs to be discovered has been discovered. Everything will unfold precisely as planned.
The people I listen to need to talk, because that’s how people think.
Freud had a point. He was, after all, a genius. You can tell that because people still hate him.
You can be pretty smart if you can just shut up.
“Stop the discussion for a moment, and institute this rule: ‘Each person can speak up for himself only after he has first restated the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker accurately, and to that speaker’s satisfaction.’” I have found this technique very useful, in my private life and in my practice.
You remember the past not so that it is “accurately recorded,” to say it again, but so that you are prepared for the future.
even what is terrible in actuality often pales in significance compared to what is terrible in imagination.
A few weeks before writing this I happened across two videos juxtaposed on YouTube. One showed the Olympic gold medal vault from 1956; the other, the Olympic silver medal vault from 2012.
Men enforce a code of behaviour on each other, when working together. Do your work. Pull your weight. Stay awake and pay attention. Don’t whine or be touchy. Stand up for your friends. Don’t suck up and don’t snitch.
When you are arguing with someone, you want to be right, and you want the other person to be wrong. Then it’s them that has to sacrifice something and change, not you, and that’s much preferable. If it’s you that’s wrong and you that must change, then you have to reconsider yourself—your memories of the past, your manner of being in the present, and your plans for the future. Then you must resolve to improve and figure out how to do that. Then you actually have to do it. That’s exhausting.
You don’t get peace by being right. You just get to be right, while your partner gets to be wrong—defeated and wrong. Do that ten thousand times and your marriage will be over (or you will wish it was).
“What have I done wrong, and what can I do now to set things at least a little bit more right?”
Proper Being is process, not a state; a journey, not a destination. It’s the continual transformation of what you know, through encounter with what you don’t know, rather than the desperate clinging to the certainty that is eternally insufficient in any case.
Always place your becoming above your current being.
The more people sort themselves out, the more responsibility they will take for the world around them and the more problems they will solve.
It is better, proverbially, to rule your own spirit than to rule a city.
aim to be the person at your father’s funeral that everyone, in their grief and misery, can rely on. There’s a worthy and noble ambition: strength in the face of adversity. That is very different from the wish for a life free of trouble.
When everything has become chaotic and uncertain, all that remains to guide you might be the character you constructed, previously, by aiming up and concentrating on the moment at hand.
There’s plenty to do, right where you are. After all, your specific personal faults detrimentally affect the world.
What shall I do with the most difficult of questions? Consider them the gateway to the path of life.