Advice for My Daughter

As a new parent, I’m trying to figure out more effective ways of concisely describing my personal ethos, partly to try to uphold it more consistently, but also to communicate it to my daughter if/when she asks. A number of lessons that I think are a start to a code, in no particular order, follow:

  1. Tell the truth, kindly. Don’t lie or cover up things because they’re unpleasant, but don’t use a hurtful truth as an excuse to rub it in either.
  2. Assume other people are doing the best they can. This is partly about intent, but also about recognizing that we all have limited capacities, in patience, energy, time, and intelligence. Being a parent has both sharpened my beliefs about how I want to parent and also encouraged me to not assume that my methods or style will work for anyone else. Short of actual abuse, I’ll assume that other parents are doing the best they can, and hope they’ll do the same for me.
  3. Find a way to do better. Be harder on yourself than on others. You know how much capacity you have to improve, and finding some additional way in the coming year (or day/week/month) to do more for others, to be kinder, to help out, is your duty.
  4. Hope that people can change. We’ve all done things wrong. We’ll keep doing things wrong. But we’re all capable of change for the better, and are more likely to do so if we have coaches/cheerleaders in our corner encouraging us to push harder, to do the work, to do better, than people typecasting us and telling us we’ve always been horrible people.
  5. Don’t use other people. This seems like it should go without saying, but with a pre-verbal child in the Covid era, I’ve found it sorely tempting to hop on zoom calls with her grandparents or with friends and try to get her to show off that she’s standing up/walking/making funny sounds. I’ve also realized that pushing her to do those things bothers me; it’s one thing to see if she wants to do it, once or twice, but if she’s not inclined, that’s fine. She doesn’t exist to entertain anyone else, and I hope to be able to channel my pride in her accomplishments in ways that don’t involve pushing her to be my dancing monkey.
  6. What you “deserve” is a meaningless concept. It’s hubristic, self-centered, and useless to spend time thinking about whether or not we got what we deserved, whether on the grounds of moral virtue or talent. The world is as it is, and most of us have been exceptionally fortunate in undeserved ways as well. We can spend our lives trying to do the complex accounting of whether the cosmic balance is in our favor or not, but there’s still no one we can submit that tally to, even if we got it right. Might as well let it go.
  7. Money doesn’t make you interesting. I’ve never understood the fascination with business titans. Steve Jobs seems (from what little I’ve read about him) to have been a terrible father to Lisa, and not kind to his employees. How could coming up with a slick user experience on a computer possibly make up for those failings as a human being? I’ve met and known some fascinating people and some extraordinarily wealthy people. Only a very few were both. You can’t guarantee you’ll become extraordinarily wealthy, but becoming interesting is within your control. Read, learn, challenge yourself, and seek out new opportunities and it will happen. Corollary: being interesting and being efficient are often at odds. Making the same 14 dishes every week is efficient; you’d save money by buying what you could in bulk, you’d save time by doing large batches and/or getting really good at doing exactly what you needed to. But it would be less interesting, and make you not much of a cook.
  8. Work for causes/people you believe in. Even if that’s just yourself. I’ve said before and will again, I would never work for Amazon in its current structure. Jeff Bezos doesn’t need my help getting richer, and however much he might pay me, nearly definitionally given his massive ownership of the company, he’d be profiting more by my efforts than I would, and given that he took advantage of non-enforcement of sales taxes online to build an advantage in e-tail, the fact that Wall Street didn’t require his businesses to turn a profit, and a now-prohibitive data advantage over competitors, I don’t believe that his success is solely due to “great customer service.”
  9. Honor your commitments. In your relationships, you will likely find moments where you feel that this wasn’t what you expected. It doesn’t matter what you expected. If you’ve made a commitment to the person and you feel that you can continue to honor that ethically and safely, then you should. They need you.
  10. Pay your taxes. It doesn’t matter how you feel about the government, or if other people are cheating on theirs, society depends on having a certain amount of communal resources that can keep our roads operational and our people safe. Do your part.
  11. Every person has equal value. Smart or not, young or old, rich or poor, good or bad, it’s not our place to judge the value of one life relative to another, unless one person is in the immediate act of threatening harm to another.
  12. Prioritize children. Whether they’re yours or not, time spent helping them, supporting them, teaching them is an investment in the future of the world. You may not reap the rewards from it, but humanity will.
  13. Challenge yourself. Don’t let fear of failure stop you from trying to jump higher, run faster, read more, or set a personal best in any dimension. It’s part of how you feel alive.
  14. If you have to cheat to win, you didn’t really win. If you don’t follow the rules of the game, your record is meaningless. If you do, it’s a source of pride even if you’re 0-100. If you have to break  the rules because they’re immoral or perverse, then do so openly, explain why, and get in “good trouble.” Sneaking around them and then defending it by saying the rules were broken when you get caught is cowardly.
  15. Find a way to fill your “dead time”. Learning some meditation techniques or breathing techniques can help fill the time waiting for the bus (or for someone to arrive, or for your own fussy child to fall asleep) without addicting you to constant stimulation. It will also help you be more patient.

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