Today is my fortieth birthday. I'm not certain that I can define how I feel about having been around for what seems a really long time. Yet I feel young, and I feel like I'm still learning and growing as a person. Nevertheless, in my life I have gained some knowledge that I would like to share with others.
In compiling a list of forty lessons, I felt it was important for me to state each lesson in my own way. Thus, I did not consult the internet or any books for great thoughts to include. Everything in the list below is original to me, with maybe two or so exceptions that I'm sure filtered in from other sources.
I also sought to be as honest as possible. Unless I'm fooling myself, each statement tells how I truly feel about the subject at this moment. Perhaps this leads to some contradictions and inconsistencies, but if so it will all have to be worked out later.
Activity: Doing something always feels better than doing nothing.
Altruism: Helping someone demands investment of actual work, not just good thoughts.
Being outside: We’re supposed to have homes and shelters. We’re entitled to be fascinated by technology and the hobbies of culture. Yet, we’re meant to be outside, and spending regular time as part of the world feels right because it is right.
Cleanliness: A clean space is not an imposition of the self on one’s environment; it’s a contract between an individual and the environment.
Coffee: To me, coffee is the best thing ever to be made from the Earth.
Commitment: If you make a promise, you have to keep it.
Creativity: Originality emerges from doing what needs to be done.
Effort: It’s always possible to try harder.
Family: Quality time with family wins over everything else. Really.
Fortitude: Most people are tougher than they think.
God: The idea of God is intricate and profound but ultimately unreal, while self-styled priests and prophets are all-too-real.
Growing Older: It’s sometimes painful and at rare times saddening, but it's always an adventure.
Happiness: Happiness is neither a secret nor a product. It’s actually nothing more than mutual sharing.
Hardship: The only way to return from difficult times is to know and to cultivate those elements that are currently good, strong, and working.
Honesty: Speaking truthfully is always good, but knowing truth is very difficult and should never be taken lightly.
Illness: Everyone falls ill at some point or another. The only choice in the matter is what medicines to employ in response.
Laughter: Positive laughter is an acid that burns through all the crap of culture and ultimately leaves only happy people standing.
Liberty: Individual liberty is the very highest social value. Every important political moment centers on the fate of one person’s rights.
Love: Love is a living thing, always developing and changing, always becoming something more or different than it was before. The way it grows is what amazes.
Marriage: Marriage is easy. Life comes up with some interesting setbacks and challenges sometimes, but being married is not any kind of burden. Instead, it is the starting point for overcoming adversity.
Meals: A meal is the greatest thing, the symbol of what we are really here for.
Misfortune: Nothing about hunger, poverty, illness, or suffering is noble or desirable.
Money: Money is not a bad thing. The idea that it’s the root of all evil is a lie designed to distract attention from the people and institutions who are actually committing wickedness.
Morality: Thinking about how to define good and evil, and investigating the assumptions behind each definition – our own definitions as well as others’ – is the single most important intellectual activity we can undertake.
Music: Listening doesn’t have to be passive or one-way.
Nutrition: Eating wisely concerns physical health, mental well-being, personal morality, and understanding of what the universe is.
Opinions: The only sacred responsibility we have is to develop ideas that are uniquely and wholly our own.
Organization: A desk is organized. So is a house or an essay for school. And so is a life. But with a life, the organization is by things one does. One should therefore do things that follow logically from things done before. And one should do things that have the potential to lead elsewhere.
Parenting: The really surprising thing about my children – which I never expected or else which I had suppressed until it dawned on me – is how much I need them. Once they each arrived and established their special places in my mind and in my heart, I needed to be able to see them, sit with them, play with them, talk and sing with them, and care for them.
Politics: The political game that includes our U.S. offices, candidates, media, lobbies, business interests, grass-roots supporters and polarized spectators is highly unhealthy and will, I worry, prove very destructive before this system gets righted.
Potential: Potential can be an unfair and unnecessary burden to place upon oneself or upon another. It’s important to know that we can do more, accomplish more, and achieve more. Yet, it’s equally important not to define – and therefore limit – what one should do, in what way, and in what time frame.
Reading: Reading is a privilege and ought to be enjoyed as such.
Reality: Life and the universe are better than the stories we make up about them.
Religion: Religious institutions serve mainly as theaters, where everyone pays to participate in continuing a self-styled and communally vetted myth. Because this myth is more socially and psychically productive, it does not need to conform to truth.
Risks: Taking calculated, educated risks is necessary and good. As one cannot be ashamed by failing in an informed risk, so too can one find no greater exhilaration than succeeding in a deliberate venture of chance.
Self-doubt: A little self-doubt has value if it motivates positive action as a response.
Sex: Sex isn’t what parents or friends say. It isn’t what one can find in movies or on the internet. Sex doesn’t say anything about a person and it doesn’t tell anyone about love or intimacy. Sex is always and only about whatever two people mean to each other.
Success: Most everything worthwhile requires people working together.
Television: TV finally does nothing for one who wants to accomplish something serious.
Work/Job: Work and fun are often the same thing.