Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Rules For Life

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Oct 13, 2006

This email, with some 'rules for life', has ben making the rounds for years. I doubt very much this was written by Bill Gates. This is political propaganda. I've seen it before. Now, at last, I've written a long overdue reponse.

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

It doesn't follow that nothing is fair, or that nothing should be fair. Justice, in particular, should be fair. Instead, therefore, of simply 'getting used to' unfairness, people should demand fairness.

Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

The 'world', thought of as an inanimate object, won't care. The 'world', thought of as your community and friends, will care. Or should care. People who don't care are called 'psychotic'. The author may be defending his or her psychosis by projecting it onto the world. You should not be taken in by this. Normal, caring, feeling people do care.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

You won't, of course, unless it's the interest on your inheritance, or unless you got a nice job because your father is chairman of the board or a former prime minister. Don't believe this stuff about 'earning' the cash or the title or the phone. That's what they will tell you while you're young to keep you from expecting too much. What they mean is, you'll never get it. Because these things aren't earned at all.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

That's why you need to join or form a union. Because there are laws in the real world to prevent people from acting in the workplace like a tecaher acts in the classroom. The laws, though, don't stop people from acting in an abusive or bullying manner when they are in positions of power. This is why you will need to protect yourself. You should put up with it in school; you should definitely not put up with it in the workplace.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Flipping burgers is a noble and dignified occupation. You are providing food for the hungry. Earning $4.50 per hour, however, is beneath your dignity - no person should be expected to work for less than poverty-level wages. And the working conditions - rotating shifts, noisy workplaces, sbusive bosses - are beneath you. Flip burgers if you have to, but remember this: our society is set up in such a way that, if you do not work under demeaning conditions for miserable wages, you will be forced to be homeless and starve. This is that 'unfairness' they told you about. Don't just accept it. Demand better working conditions, better pay, and your fair share of the wealth you create.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

You are responsible for the outcomes of every decision you make. Everyone knows that. But this responsibility does not hold your parents blameless for the sort of person you turned out to be. If you are abusive toward animals, if you are a religious fanatic, if you suffer sever issues of self esteem, you may want to look at what impact your upbringing had on that. These things are not your fault, and you should stop holding yourself completely responsible for all your failings. Do your best with what you have, but give yourself a break - a lot of people did a lot of stuff to you, and you have to deal with that.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Raising children does not mean losing your ideals, even if this is what is suggested here. If your parents have lost their high hopes and dreams, this is a sad thing, and you should reflect on the sort of society we live in that would do this to a person. Do clean your closet (I'm sure you do anyway) but don't accept this state of affairs. The rain forests matter, and they will continue to matter even if your emnployers are trying to reduce you to a state where all you can think about is day-to-day existence.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers,but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Schools have not abolished failure, and when you write a test, you only have one chance to write the answer. So you should ask yourself why the author would make such a false statement here. It is to promote the idea that life is about winners and losers, right and wrong, black and white, us and them. Educated people know better; they know that there can be environments where winners and losers don't exist - a town picnic, a concert in the park, rowing on the lake, a walk in the forest, to name a few. They know that people who think that they succeed by diminishing others are seriouly disturbed. They know that there are points of view, and that sometimes you need to look at a problem at different times, and in different ways. And they know that, when we say a child is a failure, we have failed, for we are the ones responsble for the child's education.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

You should get summers off. That's eight weeks vacation a year. Some countries manage to povide that, and they have not fallen into decay and ruin. You should wonder why yours can't. You should wonder why you can't spend time to in yourself, and ask yourself why your employer is so emotionally disturbed as to not care whether you are happy or not. And you should take that summaer off, if not every year, at least once in your life, even if it means sleeping in the park and living on handouts, because you are the most important thing in your life, which means the most important thing in your world. How can anyone tell you to diminish that? How could they?

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

In television, people have jobs - Lou is a newspaper editor, Sam is a bartender, Maxwell is a secret agent, and so on and so forth. In fact, people are always working on television. What we never see is how the low wages limit their options, how they are always underfed and chronically short of money, how their children have to give up educational opportunities, how they have to move from one job to another because of bad working conditions, how they have to work two or three jobs at once to get by.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

If this is the only reason you can think of to be nice to somebody, then you need to look at yourself more closely. Why would you not be nice to nerds? Well - you would probably be nice. But the author of this item writes as though he would dump a nerd in the river if he thought he could get away with it. Don't be like that - be nice to people because you are nice, not because you are afraid of reprisals.

If you agree, pass it on.

Or - you can pass this on, a long overdue response to this very disturbed view of life.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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