I started this collection of ramblings with A Message to my 5 year-old son Brandon. Now that my kid is halfway to nine and showing more insightfulness than I exhibited at the same age, it’s time to tighten the tone of these notes. In the past I wrote about being ridiculously happy and living fearlessly, but that’s stuff for a younger, goofier Brandon. Even though I feel more ignorant about the world than ever, I think I’ve still got a few things to tell my boy before he out-books me… also if I suddenly keel over of a heart attack, he’ll have a few words to remember me by.
1. There is hyperbole everywhere. Ever since you had the ability to comprehend current events, I have hidden nothing from you. All news of tragedies and controversies, from natural disasters to gay rights, to the aspirations of zealots, have been relayed to you with historical context minus the cable news BS. Statistically, the world is not a dangerous place no matter what menacing music CNN uses as a lead-in. This doesn’t mean bad things will never happen to you. Even if it’s one in a million, someone needs to be the one and it’s usually without reason (…unless you’re a drug mule or a base-jumper).
2. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. And it’s not really about how you finish. It’s about the stuff you see and experience, not the stuff you accumulate. Everybody finishes in more or less the same way; a bag in a morgue.
3. Nobody is equal. We all exist on a bell curve. There are as many people who are your intellectual superior as there are people who are your intellectual inferior. You know how people complain about the traffic when they ARE the traffic? We’re just other people to other people and everybody thinks they’re on the right side of the curve. Far better to assume everybody is smarter than you so you can learn from them.
4. Believe only what makes sense, not simply what you are told. It’s better to say you don’t know something than to accept the first story presented to you. When somebody asks you why don’t believe something, you need to ask them why they do. Intelligence is listening to everything, not just about what you want to hear. Make up your mind after you’ve heard the evidence. What ideology people believe in is their business and it is not your place to challenge them… unless they impose their view on you.
5. Study Science, History and Politics …in that order. Science to teach you how to question. History to understand the importance of context. Politics to understand motivations. Never, ever stop reading. If you’re doing it right, you’ll find that you’ll need to read another book to answer the questions raised by the first one.
6. There are more good people than there are bad people but there are tons more apathetic people than there are truly good people. A lot of people have good and kind beliefs because it makes them feel like superheroes to have those beliefs. The people who are really good are the people who actually act on those beliefs and don’t tell the internet about it.
7. Flexibility is a virtue. Refusing to yield your existing ideas to more sensible ones is not honourable, it’s stupid. No ideology, philosophy or person has any more than a scant percentage of all the knowledge available and no ideology, philosophy or person has a monopoly on morality. Ideas that adapt are the ones that are propagated. Throw your ideas in the hat and be prepared to defend them. If somebody’s ideas are better than yours, acknowledge it and incorporate what you’ve learned into your next idea. This is the essence of improvement. Things and concepts that don’t adapt will die. What you see right now is just a snapshot of a continuum. Much of what is now was not here 10 years ago and won’t be here in 10 years.
8. Nobody is really competing with you. Folks are far too immersed in their own affairs to sincerely care about where you are. This doesn’t mean they’re thoughtless people. It’s just that most people have 20 things on their mind and you rank somewhere around 50, if at all. Personal best is a far better measure of progress than beating someone else. If you constantly have to beat someone to be satisfied, life is going to be exhausting.
9. ‘Nice’ doesn’t really mean anything. Brandon, being nice and constantly compliant is a meaningless existence. I don’t mean for you to be a malicious ____, but being nice without being useful does not solve a single problem for anybody. You’ll become someone else’s habit; someone else who might also be too nice to tell you that you’ve been permanently friend-zoned…this applies to everything, from love to business to general bro-dom. If you’ve never pissed anybody off, than you’ve never stood your ground even once.
Brandon, you’re a smart kid but it means absolutely nothing if you don’t contribute. There are plenty of smart people but not everybody takes advantage of their inherent abilities. They may say they don’t like the risk of rocking the boat but in my experience, it comes down to not being willing to do the work to mitigate those risks. There is risk in every idea, from asking a girl out, to stating an opinion, to starting a business, to trying out for a sport you’ve never played. A guy who’s tried and failed is infinitely more awesome than a guy who has never tried.
Now if only you can play a game of Risk with me without it descending into a crying fit, I’ll be a happy dad.
10. Learn how to lose graciously.