I’m not religious, but was raised in a fanatical Born-Again Christian environment. I have some sadness having grown up in such a stifling atmosphere, but have always been glad to have gained a moral root system that, at this point, comes naturally to me. I am extraordinarily liberal in my views, and really have no idea how I am a product of such a controlled and manipulative childhood condition.
Every religion has a list of rules. Christianity has the 10 Commandments, Buddhism has the Eight-Fold Path and the Four Noble Truths, and Islam has 38 Prohibitions. I don’t like to think of these lists as rules, but rather a guideline for how to live life. If you break the rules down they are pretty much telling you not to steal or cheat or lie or idolize, etc, etc…
Now, I am certainly no moral authority, but I have lived what feels like a million lifetimes already, and have generated a list of rules that I aspire to keep. Sometimes the rules are a struggle, and sometimes they are a joy.
Rule #1: Be Kind
Ah, yes! The Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s pretty much a “DUH” rule, but you would be surprised at how many rude and awful people there are out there. This rule deals with both empathy for others and karma for yourself. Of course some people take in a “harm or be harmed” approach to life, which is easy to fall into if you are bitter or overly morose. I find that in my own personal life, this is the easiest and most rewarding rule to follow. I suspect that goes for most of us, unless you’re obtuse, then you’re screwed and so are the rest of us.
Rule #2: Eat Well
This rule sucks. I love pizza and bagels and cheese, which makes Rule #2 one of the harder rules for me to follow. I do my best, however, to intake life’s yummy pleasures by moderating them and I never EVER eat fast food anymore (even though I almost broke down and bought a small French Fry from McDonalds the other day). I have found the more that you eat salad, the more you crave it. Of course if I do eat a salad I tend to offset it with a sprinkle of cheese because somehow it’s easy to rationalize.
Also, avoid sodas and too much juice (unless you make it yourself). Drink water instead. 80% of your body will be happy while the entire 100% will thank you.
RULE #3: No Spitting
This rule is on here because of something that Captain Clam and I witnessed yesterday while on our commute to our fabulous new jobs. A woman sitting on a subway bench got up in front of us as we were about to pass by and spit (like a huge loogie) onto the train tracks. Yeah, just like that. If you do need to spit, be discrete. Pretend it’s a pee that you really need to take and go hide behind a tree or in a corner. Not all up in my face.
Rule #4: Be Generous
It is better to give than receive, yes? Yes! I love Christmas because I get to give people things that I want them to have. Of course, they want me to have socks and other oddities, but I am happy to receive these items. Of course, I totally one-up them with a handmade picture frame or a sweet ass bonsai tree that is older than I am. In some ways being generous also makes me feel selfish, since it is my goal to give you a better gift than you give to me.
Rule #5: Be Honest
Growing up I was taught that “honesty is the best policy.” Sadly, it really didn’t matter if I lied or told the truth – I always got in trouble regardless. At a certain point, I figured if I came clean, then the punishment wouldn’t be so bad. Looking back I realize that lies lead to more lies, and that is just no good in the long run.
Rule #6: Get a Pet
Pets make life so much better and serve as a great replacement for children or a training tool for becoming a parent. They take away stress and anxiety and are faithful friends for as many years as they can carry. A Sub-Rule to Rule #6 is that you should give your pet a unique or funny name. You should also give your pets nicknames that suit their personalities. They are fuzzy children, so treat them that way.
Rule #7: Wipe the Seat
If you pee on the seat, wipe it off. People will be more likely not to pee on the seat if it is already clean because then it is safe to sit on. Plus, it’s gross if you don’t, especially if it’s in your own bathroom.
Rule #8: Write Letters
There are only a few things that are more awesome than receiving a letter in someone’s own handwriting. In this age of technology, it’s acceptable to be informal with email and private messaging. Send a letter every once in a while, it will do good for your soul and brighten the day of the recipient. Plus it will help the Postal Service stay in business for just a little longer. You also get to exercise handwriting skills. When is that last time you wrote in script? Do you even know how to anymore? It’s almost like a foreign language. Maybe you should learn it (and send me a damn snail mail already)!
Rule #9: Cry
It’s okay to cry. It’s actually healthy. A Sad movie or YouTube video can trigger the waterworks, so let it. Don’t hold it in. It will make your brain happy.
Rule #10: Drink Beer
This is another one of those rules that I have no problem imbibing by (did you see my attempt at a very clever pun?). Beer has nutritional value, and, if indulged in moderation, will have excellent effects to your health and overall mood. Don’t believe me? Check it HERE.
Rule #11: Bathe Daily
Unless you are camping out in the woods, this should be followed religiously. Do I need to say more?
Rule #12: Talk to Strangers
Unless you are under the age of 14, Stranger Danger shouldn’t be as serious as it was when you were 6. Of course always beware of people you don’t know (as well as some people you do know). Saying Good Morning to a stranger is not only going to make you feel good, but may change the course of someone else’s day.
Rule #13: Be on Time
If you know me at all then you know that this rule is a constant struggle for me. In recent history I have greatly improved my statistics for being on time, which means showing up exactly at 8 am for work, or catching the train or bus needed to get to my hosts in other counties / states at the exact time they expect my arrival. Being on time is important. It shows that you are reliable and dilligent. Be that. And get a Mickey Mouse watch, because they are simply awesome.
Rule #14: Be Fearless
My High School varsity basketball coach would always tell me “Have ice in your veins.” What a pep talk! I would get back out on the court with the strength and honor of a thousand buffalo. Yay!
Have you ever wondered what is there really to be afraid of? I try to consider my biggest fear to be myself. I really don’t have any idea what we, as humans, are capable of. Fearing the unknown is a trait that has been learned. I once read an article about a woman who has no amygdala (read HERE), which makes her immune to fear. If only we could learn to control the fear “juice” and extend ourselves beyond the unknown, then we would be limitless, and truly fearless. For now I will just settle for overcoming a fear of Spiders (a fear that my silly ex-boyfriend gave to me). In reality, they aren’t so bad.
Rule #15: Try
Another one of my High School mentors was my Chorus teacher. He once gave a short lecture on the word TRY and related it to music as well as life. If you don’t make an effort, then your heart is not really in whatever it is you are doing. If you are passionate about what you are doing, then why not exhaust yourself doing it?
Rule #16: Stick up for Yourself
This one might be an obvious one, but for me it is certainly a struggle. I am a huge fan of passive aggression and try to avoid confrontation at all costs. I am, however, working on toughening up my skin and have learned that I don’t have to take shit from anybody. In fact, I am learning to give shit back where shit is due.
Rule #17: Be Happy in Your Work
You will spend most of your life working. Sometimes all you work for is for a paycheck. Sadly, when most of your life is spent simply earning a check, your life will not be a happy one. A paycheck does not determine happiness. Happiness determines happiness.
Rule #18: Help Others
Holding a door for your neighbor who is carrying a shit load of groceries or helping a stranger with a baby stroller climb the stairs will restore a sense of goodness in humanity as well as make both you and that other person a little more grateful for being alive. Have you ever fed the homeless? Or even played basketball with a friends kid? Helping others is another way to help yourself. We should all learn to do it naturally.
Rule #20: Call your Mom
Moms worry and they want to hear from you. And when you actually go and see your mom, bring her flowers. She has most certainly earned them.
Rule #21: Don’t Stare
If you are going to stare, then make it a point not to get caught.
Rule #22: Watch Less TV
There is a real world out there. I will never understand how people spend their time watching someone else’s life on a reality TV show. Don’t you have your own life to live? TV should be treated like beer: Indulge in moderation.
Rule #23: Don’t be Wasteful
Your old food can go a long way. Share with nature. Start a mulch pile. Make a bird feeder. Plant a flower garden. There are many ways to “feed the ducks” and it starts with you being environmentally responsible.
Captain Clam grew up on a farm in Wisconsin. He taught me so many things that have changed my perspective on being (even just a little bit) green. We toss old coffee grinds and egg shells in our outside planters (which is really good for the plants, by the way). We use tupperware and wash our zip-lock bags for re-use. We pack our recyclables in separate bags so building management can sort them more efficiently (or the can collectors don’t tear through the bags in haste, causing a nasty, dirty scene on the sidewalk). We use canvas shopping bags and any plastic bags are used for garbage liners or art projects.
Imagine if everyone did stuff like this? Be aware of nature and don’t take it for granted.
Rule #24: Love
If you truly love, let it be frivolous. Everyone needs love, and if you give love, it will most certainly be returned to you.
I love you.
Rule #25: Break the Rules
I know, I know. This is a list of rules to follow and the last rule is to break the rules. Obviously some rules are ridiculously dumb and are meant to be broken. And when you do break a rule, there is some sense of independence and defiance that is completely satisfying. You should always question any rule and play the devil’s advocate, even if you are not the devil. Always question everything. There is no reason anyone should ever tell you how to live your life.
This list was a lot longer when I first started writing. Most of the rules coincided with each other, so it was easy to edit in some ways, and harder to edit in other ways. Some of these items are obvious and already imbedded in our character, and yet some are a struggle or a personal goal that reflects the person we want to one day be. I am not always right, although in my mind I am hardly ever wrong. But when I am wrong, I know it.
My personal take on rules to live by is one of poetic and philosophical gesture. I can sum it up by telling you that you don’t need a book or religion to tell you what to do. You tell yourself what to do as you are your own maker. There are no actual “Rules to Live By” and while some people believe that certain rules are written in stone (literally (just google “Moses”)), there is no such thing. Your set of rules will differ from everyone else’s, but as long as you live a good life (or at least give it your best effort), you will be golden.