Longform: Letter to My Son
The occasion of your birth ignited in me a state of self-evaluation accompanied with a desire that, in addition to good looks, I would pass on to you some measure of the hard-won wisdom I have earned. As you will no doubt discover during your teenage years, I am a miserable failure as a human being, in spite of the aforementioned good looks. Over the last several years I have jotted down a few notes, cobbled together here, that I wish for you to consider. Some are such obvious truths that you will question their inclusion, until you look about you and find the wide diversity of their application. Like most rules, they exist outside of the game, and are often ignored by the participants when it suits them. At their core they are ideals for which we reach, but who’s perfect attainment will always allude us.
1. Be humble. Human knowledge is limited. Our ability to predict outcomes in even simple systems is incredibly limited. Be wary of any person who claims to posses the knowledge to make any absolute claim. You can not be absolutely sure about any explanation of the past, and should be careful about making claims about the future–if you track it you will find your own error rate will be quite high. Just as arrogance should be avoided in your own life, it should be not be followed in others. A simple review of history from recent catastrophic doomsayers to those in ancient times will find, except in rare and often accidental circumstances, they have all been wrong. Your premises are wrong and your assumptions are wrong. What you think is true, scientific, and bedrock unquestionable truth is wrong. You are not wrong because the other guy is right, but because of our shared limited capacity for knowledge and far greater limitation of the ability to infer, detect, extrapolate and conclude any claim from any data. Humility will make you more amiable, kinder, more capable of true empathy, and will guide you to make better and wise judgment in all aspects of your life.
2. Be optimistic. There will be better days. Days with ice cream and sunshine. Days with love and warmth. More often than not these days are created by your attitude and point of view than by any external circumstance, such as ice cream and sunshine. Your happiness is often a creation of your own design. Decide to be happy, decide that today to will be better, and then go out and make it better. The future is a great and awesome place. No matter the pain, heartache and grief of today, tomorrow there will still be cold cans of diet coke, Star Wars and a comfy blanket, movie theater popcorn and Rio Bravo. Tomorrow can and will have golden moments of joy that will fall upon your face like the rays of a morning sun, like warm rain the desert, like love. Our ability to enjoy life, no matter the circumstances depends on our outlook. There are men, at the height of professional admiration, universally loved by the public, with wealth beyond the dreams of 99.99% of the humans on this planet, but whose poisoned outlook keeps them from any joy, and who live–as long as they do–in a dungeon of sorrow in their own mind. The optimistic person, living on pennies, is a far richer man—living a life of hearty joy.
3. The world doesn’t revolve around you. Its not all about you. Your every wish and desire are not the mission of the universe. There are a (six?) billion people on this planet. If you make your every day about your complaints, your dreams, your whims, your beliefs, your vision of what you want society to be, your sense of right, and what you are owed, then you are both unlikely to ever be happy and also are a huge douchebag. Guard against waiving a banner for some altruistic cause to declare your moral and mental greatness. Your views about justice; your cause; your mission; you changing the world according to your desires; you the master of all, the right, the just, the great: a mantra of self-aggrandizement that will turn you into an insufferable ass. It ain’t all about you, kid.
4. Treat everyone as an individual, and expect the same. The human consciousness that you are interacting is not derived from the biological parents of that being. It did not grow though a thousand generations, passing from one along to the next. That person in front of you is a new, unique, and blameless individual. They do not possess in their soul a thousand years of inherited virtue or vice. They do not carry forward unpaid debt, nor do they have a balance owed and due to them. They are a single person, whose merits and vices are their own. Do not baggage strangers with cultural, racial, sexual, regional, religious suitcases of whatever shape and size. Expect and demand to be treated as an individual, treat all other human beings as unique individual persons not as the representatives of a group, class, or sect. All classifications, created for whatever purpose, disappear at the individual level.
5. There is no such thing as good breeding. Anyone who props themselves on the great and grand of their forbearers to push forward their importance should be shunned. Very likely, his daddy was an ass too.
6. You can actually do whatever you want. Really. Totally. Whatever you want. There may be consequences–harsh and terrible, but you and life are truly and completely limitless.
7. Embrace your interests and fuck everyone else. Its not about them either. Even if no one is interested in your interest. Nowadays we have the internet, you can connect with other freaks who are interested in the same weird crap you’re into. I had a buddy in the Marines that loved Dragonball Z and he didn’t care if you thought it was childish. Now he’s almost 40 and he still thinks Dragonball Z is pretty damn cool. I’ve never met another person on the earth who agrees with him or has even heard of it (that I know of). But he doesn’t care, he enjoys what he wants. The same goes for you. If you think needle point is interesting, knock yourself out. Become a bridge player. Learn to sew, or ski, or play the trombone. Play that brass horn in a marching band and say fuck off to all the haters.
8. Forgive. Hardest and most important. The burden is one you carry. You punish no one. You box yourself into loneliness. It is the most freeing and cleansing thing that any human can do. It is also the most difficult.
9. Give it your best shot, this is only life you’re going to get, make it awesome. Fail spectacularly. I will always be there to catch you if you fall, to dust you off and send you right back into the game.
10. Good is better than happy. A good boy is a happy boy. A bad boy is a sad boy. I would rather you be good than momentarily happy. For the fleeting gratification of moment, the relief of that impulse, if the product of vice, may haunt you forever in torment and pain. Seeking goodness, striving to be good, and being good are so much harder than trying to be happy for its own sake. First, goodness can actually be achieved, and thereby happiness. However, happiness, when sought for its own sake, is a vaporous poison. Second, goodness is inherently good (duh), whereas happiness may be destructive, evil and lead to great suffering. Finally, when you are striving for the ideal of goodness your life will be simple. A person seeking only goodness does not have to construct towers of falsehoods to protect their many failures. Nor do they require masks to wear. Goodness allows honest, hopeful living and endearing happiness.
I’m sure that I have much more wisdom to share with you. I hope that some it will rub off on you. But if this is all that I’m ever to give you of me, to carry with you along your journey, a guide some trace of your character to achieve something more noble than any birth can grant, then that will make me a very grateful father.