Recently a friend and I discovered that we had read the same book. The book is a famous one by a polarizing psychologist (among other things) in which the expert expounds on what he thinks are basic rules for living a well-adjusted life. Rather than busy ourselves with our assessment of this fellow’s compelling list of rules, my friend and I decided to list out our own rules to live by.
This, if you’ve never tried to put them on paper, can be a baffling task. Many of us think that we lead very intentional lives—examined lives, to use the vernacular of philosophy. In reality, many of us just sort of get by with our daily decisions and then retroactively ascribe meaning and purpose and rationale. Or, at least, that is what I do. I’m a revisionist when it comes to my own life—intentionality becomes a well-scripted afterthought.
Speaking of revisions, here’s something else I’ve realized: if I never put down some initial rules, I won’t be able to weigh them for merit and meaning, or make beneficial changes. I will be unable to test if the “bridge” is too wobbly for my weight, a thing I’d rather find out at the onset—in order to repair said bridge (and the thinking that has led me to it) or find an altogether different route for crossing the chasms of life.
So I jotted down rules. Some good and true; the validity of others still waiting to be proven out in my life. I didn’t spend too long on the exercise, desiring not exactitude, but rather a place to begin. Below is my list (in no purposeful order). With the world at a standstill, I figured I could use the slow weeks ahead to take each of these rules and spend a few words explaining it to myself (and any interested lurkers willing to read along). Maybe a few of my rules will help you craft your own? Perhaps seeing my rules in the broad light of the day will empower you to rebuke, to correct, to improve upon my thinking? I’m always up for better rules, for cleaner thinking, for truer perspectives. I hope you are too.
And I guess here, too, would be a decent time to offer a disclaimer on this word “rules” that can seem like such an authoritarian imposition upon our freedoms. “I live by no rules!” you claim, with hearty defiance. Well, yes, except for that statement, which is, you know, a rule. We all have them—what we are willing to spend on vacations (and what we won’t), what we are willing to call a date (and what we aren’t), what we believe is okay to cut corners on (and what we are sticklers about). “Rules” as I am calling them are much like drawers. I put things in them; they help order things. Sometimes, to my wife’s chagrin, I choose not to use the drawers and leave a pair of pants just beyond them. Life goes on when this occurs (for me at least!). These life maxims aren’t intended to be oppressive any more than the lines and signs on the highway are. These are suggestions I make to myself on how to best navigate the roads of life.
Each week, I’ll expound briefly on a couple of the following first-draft rules:
- When at an impasse on an action or decision, be willing to say “yes.”
- Spend dollars, not dimes.
- Enjoy God so that my view of him joyfully grows, and with that increasing view comes a growing perspective in all things.
- Find what is lovely about a person and lead with that.
- Be on time (without judging those who aren’t).
- When there is no choice in a matter, dwell on it as little as possible. Try even to find something enjoyable about it or create a reward for “suffering” well.
- Don’t continue on hungry. When a pause comes, feed the muse by feeding the body.
- Love life but, aside from human relationships, make as many things as possible “unnecessary” for that enjoyment. Be passionate yet unreliant.
- Doggedly seek truth in all things, while maintaining the simple truth that I am wrong about most things. Embrace mystery and paradox.
- Say and mean “I’m sorry” before I have to.
- Never fight for the best parking spot (for myself).
- Don’t devalue a stuffed animal without first filling it with imagination.
- Always reach for the mirror before the binoculars. (Unless on a safari.)
- It’s always colder than you think.
Thanks for taking a few moments to think about your thinking and allowing me a forum to do the same. New posts in this series will come out every Tuesday and Thursday. If interested, follow along. Have a rule of your own? Offer it up as a comment or reach out.