- Be patient: good things rarely happen quickly. It takes a long time to earn a degree, to pay off debt or save money. When you’re sick, there may be large gaps between sickness and health; therapies may only exist in the distant future, PT may take months to show results. Most may only get better with rest and time. I find that it’s often difficult for those of us with chronic medical conditions to extrapolate from general principles like ‘be patient’ and apply them to particular circumstances or conditions in our life – especially regarding our physical health. I think the biggest regret many have is that they weren’t patient enough. They probably gave up on many things, when exercising a little patience would have been much more beneficial. Or they weren’t able to enjoy the time they did have because they were worried and stressed about how they could efficiently and effectively return to normal.
- Be humble: Humility is endearing, arrogance is not (at least not for most). I use to be the cockiest, most narcissistic guy ever; most of the time, I literally had NO idea I was like that – people would come up to me in grade-school and tell me so-and-so hated me. When I asked why, they responded: well, you’re cocky. I had no idea. It really bothered me because I was just so damn insecure; I was super self-conscious and thought everyone hated me. And that really confused me. Inside, I knew that I was really insecure, but my actions told otherwise. I’ve learned that there is a difference between humility and insecurity; although someone may be experiencing a tumultuous bout of insecurity-riddled-depression, they still may hold bigoted views and be unwilling to change. Being insecure and self-conscious is not enough – it’s certainly doesn’t get you off the hook!
- Think clearly, and often: This compliments what I was saying above about ‘humility’. I had no idea that I was arrogant. I thought arrogance came in the form of a good-looking jock who bullied ‘nerds’ and those different from him. Arrogance is much more insidious than that – this took me a long time to learn. And you know what, it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to come to an understanding, just that you do; the goal is more important than the result. Always act as though the possibility that someone else is wrong is less than the possibility that you’re misunderstanding them.
- Be willing to be vulnerable: Apologize properly, and often! It doesn’t matter if the person that offended you was more wrong than you were, and said more wrong things than you did. What matters is how you respond afterwards. It’s definitely a fine-line. If you’re too lenient, and you don’t respond when someone is yelling at you, people will walk all over you. On the other hand, if you respond in keeping with their tone and force, than you threaten to create rifts even the most skilled therapist couldn’t mend. Keep calm. Don’t bring up things from the past, just work with what’s being said to you in the present. Don’t respond with ad hominem attacks. Be civil and forthright. After wards, make sure you apologize. A) you’ll ‘be the better man’, and B) you will mend the problem before it gets a chance to grow. We all know this is true: if we’re mad about a fight, we’ll think about it daily for weeks. The negativity will stew in us; we’ll walk around thinking how much we hate so-and-so. If you apologize, even if you’re not wrong, you’ll prevent that from happening.And I know how difficult it can be to apologize after a fight. This is especially true if you’re the type of person who never apologizes, but has begun to. This is where you need to be patient. Just be consistent and things will get easier. And if the reasons listed above don’t motivate you towards vulnerability, than think about how people will remember you when you’re gone. Do you want to be forgotten? Do you want those around you to secretly be relieved with your passing because you were such a difficult person to get along with? Or do you want those around you to mourn your loss? Do you want to be remembered as the guy who kept his cool and always apologized?
- Be good: ‘Good’ is a highly ambiguous term, and one that’s notoriously difficult to define. And although philosophers will argue about both its existence and its meaning for millenia to come, we can abstract from general social conventions a list of rules that will ensure we act in an honorable way, most of the time – and at minimum, that we have the desire to do so. On the vanguard of good behaviors are respect, humility, and open-mindedness. The reason I believe they are the main three we should strive towards is that each plays off one another. In order to be open-minded, you must have respect. Conversely, if you aren’t necessarily a very respectful person, open-mindedness produces respect (even if you don’t realize it at first). If you accept someone’s position, you are demonstrating respect – even if you don’t feel like you’re harboring internal, latent respect. Operate by the principle of charity. As well, being open-minded demonstrates humility. So, even if you have not two, but one, two will follow. If its difficult for you to be downright humble, in a cliché, quintessential manner, than simply respect people; don’t argue with everything they say, calling them stupid – even if it so happens they are wrong, and they aren’t the most intelligent – and if you do, apologize often! All life deserves respect (that’s all life, remember, not just human life).
- Act as though there is a high possibility you are wrong about most things: if you act as though you’re possibly wrong about most things, you will be good. And as an added bonus, you’ll probably be right about much more. This ties nicely into number three. Don’t sell yourself short; try to find the faults in your reasoning.
- Live life as though you will die the next day… think clearly and often on this: Most people have probably heard that country song ‘live like you were dying’… you know, the one about the sky-diving and the kung-fu fighting. Well, guess what? It’s true! As a man who is reminded of his mortality not only daily, but hourly, and as a man who just six months ago thought it was certain he would attend medical school and live forever – certain beyond a doubt – take it from me that you’re wrong; you’re not finding indifferent comfort in the illusion of ‘young’ immortality, but rather you’re placating your soul (metaphorically or materially (immateriality), whichever you believe – remember number 5 here). Most will find that living in this manner, although frightening and difficult, will make achieving these 7 things (so far) easy – they will come naturally for most. I think most people want to be remembered. This is probably why schools are named after people, or hospitals, why the rich become philanthropic and the successful are, well, successful. People who dream of fame and fortune for hedonistic purposes alone rarely succeed. For instance, I want to be remembered as good. I want people to cry at my funeral and miss me when I’m gone. As it stands, the way I have behaved for the past 20 years, I doubt that will happen in any potent manner. But those who dream of how they will be remembered do – although, there are exceptions. I often hear people say ‘well in order for good to exist, bad must also exist’. And although that’s probably true, we must apply it for it to take on any real meaning; we can do so here. In order to become good, you must not be bad. I don’t really mean ‘bad’ in some weird foggy moral sense, but rather bad as in ‘hard’. Most connote easy with good and bad with hard. So in order for goodness to prevail, we must overcome the bad – not ‘really’ over-come, as that metaphor implies some sort of distancing flight, but more potently, we must wade through the bad to get to the good – and remember, the good is often found within the bad… confusing, I know – here’s where number 3 comes in
- Don’t hate: this means don’t hate those for whom it comes easily, as well as those for whom it does not – those you know, and those whom you do not… who you have just met, for example. Remember, be humble, respectful, and open-minded. I used to be a hardcore atheist. I thought, ‘man, religion is stupid, and those who believe it are far more stupid’. But double standard of the year, I hated it when the religious or otherwise called my beliefs out and found me daft. I think most of us want others to be good; that’s probably why we hate religion, because it breeds distance and bigotry… but we’re wrong to think that. Look at all the secularists who share those exact same qualities. In fact, since religion is on the decline, I’m willing to bet that more atheists or agnostics fulfill the qualities religion supposedly produces than actual religious persons do; as a conservative vote, I’d wager equal parts per-capita. Well, what does that say about our feelings, then? I would say the forces producing bigotry, distance between equity and liberty, etc… far more and far more complicated than we would think. We can play ‘pascal’s wager’ all day, and come up with good arguments for both sides. At the end of the day though, what have you accomplished? Have you managed to demonstrate goodness, humility and respect? Have you created these things? Or have you wasted your time and the time of others arguing? Again, a good argument can be made for both sides of the coin, but at the end of the day the winners are those who show love… I would say almost everyone loves those who love… even if those who love believe differently than we do.
- Be open-minded: its important enough for me to say it again, and again, and again. Prejudice is complicated and messy. No one likes to feel stigmatized but often we find ourselves at the hands of our own prejudices towards others… which leads me to my next point.
- Check your double-standards often: We all have double standards. And, well, that’s pretty normal I think. It comes to fault when we let them rule us, rather than try to master them. If you find it very difficult and never end up changing them, people will respect you for trying to change them, for putting in the effort. And you will lead a more satisfying and good life doing so.
- Love: Just do it… it doesn’t matter how – so long as you follow the other points — just that you do. Now, everything in proportion. But just try it out. Tell people you love them, open doors for strangers and give money to the poor.
- ‘That which you do to the least of these my brothers, you do unto me’: Help the poor and wretched.
- Respect death: No one wants to die. Death is the most horrible consequence of life (good with the bad). Respect it, those who have endured it, and those who have survived it. Respect the elderly, for they have managed to stay death for quite some time. Share in their wisdom. Our culture seems to have migrated towards an indifferent view towards our elderly; we abuse and neglect them. We once lived in a time, as humans, when the prospect of death was ever-present in our lives. I’m not advocating a return to such harsh conditions, but rather, a respect for the ultimate sacrifice.
- Treat others as you would have them treat you: This includes the very important practice: honesty; even white lies can have dire consequences. And when they seem insignificant is when they have the most power over you. Eventually white lies will build up until all that surrounds you is involved in a lie of some sort – exaggerations etc…
- Family matters most: I would say the biggest and most potent criticism to this idea is the notion that there are those who live without the support of family; those who were abandoned, either emotionally or physically. Those who have lost love ones to death. And as such there is an aspect of inequality. But imagine ultimately if everyone’s family operated by these standards; if everyone loved their family unequivocally, through thick and thin. No one would be left-behind. But as our world is a broken one, this is not the case. As such , we can adapt. Blood runs thick, but thicker runs love. Love those who have no one who loves them, take them in as family. And love your family; they are more important than your personal dreams, desires and other relationships. More important so, that if you show them love first and fore-most, they will return love, and you will find those things you wanted either less important, or there for the taking!
- Respect the dead and dying: One of my favorite games has always been Assassins Creed. I think the whole series is amazing- I know there are others who would disagree. I don’t only like the game because of the tremendous game-play, or the good, nostalgic memories playing brings back, but I love it because they glorify a true hero, a true protagonist – one we should all model our life after. Whenever an assassin kills, he awards the target with their last rites once they’ve passed away. Respect for the dead isn’t something that should be lost, nor is it some boring traditionalistic ritual – as the healthy and young often understand it to be. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t until I played it today for the first time since December of last year that it hit me how good this aspect was. A good man shows the same humility and respect to his greatest and least enemies as he would to his greatest and least friend – to degrees. Respecting the dead has little to do with the man who died than it does with the sanctity and value of life; death is the most negative of things and should be avoided at all costs. It is the highest price and consequence and the dead deserve our respect. If you can’t understand this now, I don’t blame you. But try. Because one day odds are you will die too; at which time the golden rule will never apply more prudently, and unless you’re some sociopathic monster, you will regret these mistakes you’ve made. The living should never die, and if a time comes when the power to resurrect becomes available, all souls should live again – or so is my hope.
This is an incomplete list, a list which I will update when I remember and learn more – as so often the two in combination produce one. Try it out for yourself. Make a list; doing so does not ascribe you to some complicated or simple form of rule consequentialism… we just forget and learn; often simultaneously. Write down your sage advice so that you will never forget, but constantly learn. Live life to the fullest. The simplest way to do so is to live life for others (game theory).
And remember, these things will be hard. But I think the ‘hardness’ of something, or the difficulty, is a good indicator that its worthwhile; as a general principle, not necessarily one that holds up in every particular situation. It’s hard to not judge, and to love those whom it would be much easier, and is our inclination to, hate. Work through the hardness. That’s something I have had to recently re-learn… and re-learn… and re-learn. Make mistakes, they’re good.