Fifty Words of Wisdom to My Son on the Occasion of His Birth

Hello little one. You’re just sort of starting out now, and I don’t want to lay anything too heavy on you. I’m full of joy, of course, and also other emotions not all of which I quite understand yet. And there’s a whole great big world out there for you to get to know, and your days are going to be full of play and adventure and learning and love and eating and sleeping (Those in particular quite a lot at first), and I can’t wait to get in on that.
But being a parent also brings along with it a pretty weighty sense of responsibility. And so, in the months leading up to our formal introduction, I put together this non-exhaustive list. I plan to teach you these things as we go and put them all in their proper context, but just in case, what with all the flu shots and teething and kindergarten and vaccinations and driver’s licenses and prom and college and working and marriage you’re going to be doing, I miss a couple of these, I wanted to have them all written down here in one place so you can go back and read them yourself once you’ve learned how to read.

  1. Always cut the other guy some slack. You don’t know what kind of a
    day he’s having. Maybe his mom just died. And then you’d be a jerk.
  2. It does not matter that the two words are etymologically
    unrelated. When you say “niggardly”, it will hurt the feelings of some
    people. Now that you know this, if you use it anyway, you’re
    intentionally hurting them. Don’t do that, it makes you a jerk.
  3. Don’t hurt other people when you can avoid it. When you can’t
    avoid it, don’t try to convince yourself that they deserved it.
  4. Intent isn’t magic.
  5. If someone demands you have a completely logically consistent
    moral system with no room for exceptions or mitigating circumstances,
    he’s trying to trick you into committing to a system that can be
    manipulated to grind down on those who are already at a disadvantage.
  6. If you know it’s going to hurt someone and you do it anyway, you
    did too mean to hurt them.
  7. Don’t demand someone justify their pain to you. You don’t get to
    tell someone that they shouldn’t be upset over a racial slur or a
    misogynistic joke.
  8. From the day you were born, you were better off than 90% of all
    the people who have ever lived, and the overwhelming likelihood is
    that nothing will ever happen so terrible that you won’t live your
    entire life better off than 70% of them. Think about that if you’re
    ever tempted to say “Sorry, I got problems enough of my own without
    being expected to help you out.”
  9. Every time you tell a racist joke, there’s a closet racist
    somewhere nodding in approval and thinking “Yep, there’s a guy who
    tells it like it is.” Every time you tell a rape joke, there’s a
    rapist somewhere nodding in approval and thinking “Yep, there’s a guy
    who tells it like it is.” Still seem funny?
  10. You can’t push a rope. F=MA. Manhole covers are round so they
    don’t fall in. Every engineering problem you will ever encounter can
    be solved by derivation from these three laws. But not efficiently.
  11. No matter how dark it gets, remember: In this place and at this
    time, there is someone right here, right now, who loves you. No matter what.
  12. There is at least one person who is worse off than you are right
    now. Don’t make things worse for them
  13. It’s tempting, but the thing you feel at the misfortune of others
    isn’t real joy. It’s an addictive joy-like form of
    unhappiness. There’s a reason the Germans needed to invent a whole new
    word for it. Feeling it prevents you from feeling true joy.
  14. Test everything. Hold on to the good.
  15. Don’t be a bully.
  16. Permission is the bare minimum you must have. What you really
    want, though, is an invitation.
  17. When someone tells you that you’re hurting them, don’t try to
    explain why the thing you’re doing shouldn’t be hurtful. Stop
    hurting them
  18. After the second round of Eenie-Meenie-Miney-Moe, the fact that you
    want to keep going in the hopes of getting a different answer means
    that you actually know which one you want to pick.
  19. On second thought, “Eenie-Meenie-Miney-Moe” has an unfortunate
    racist backstory. Use this one instead:

    Ippy Dippy My Space-Shippy
    On a course so true,
    Past Neptune and Pluto’s Moon
    The one I choose is you

  20. Pay attention to your surroundings and what you’re doing. Especially when driving.
  21. Someday, someone is going to say “Oh yeah, if you’re so tolerant,
    you have to tolerate my intolerance!” That person is a
    douchebag. Tell him so.
  22. However tempting you may find it, other people are people. Do not
    forget that. Do not challenge that. Do not abide others to challenge
  23. There is no such thing as a neutral stance on racism, misogyny,
    homophobia, xenophobia, islamophobia, or whatever other kind of
    bigotry is popular when you’re reading this. Either you believe
    everyone is a full person deserving of full rights, equality, and
    basic human dignity, or you don’t. And if you don’t, you’re a bigot
    and that’s the end of it.
  24. Own your decisions. This is even more important than making the
    right ones. If someone asks you why you did the important things you
    did in your life, “It just kinda happened,” is a lousy answer.
  25. If you think a wire may be live, touch it with the back
    of your hand. Better yet, don’t touch it at all.
  26. Getting the thing that isn’t really what you want, but is cheaper
    than the thing you want is hardly ever a good deal.
  27. People remember you fondly when you make a point of being nice to
  28. Hold a peppermint patty up to your ear and break it in half some
    time. The sound it makes is really neat.
  29. Learn all the words to the songs you like to sing along to. The
    other people in the car will thank you.
  30. By virtue of your sex, your skin color, the language you speak,
    the place you live, you carry around a knapsack of privileges that
    other people don’t have. They’re not necessarily bad things, but
    remember that these are privileges, and that not everyone has
    them. There are things you will take for granted as your god-given
    right that other people can’t do. If you walk down a street alone at
    night and are attacked, no one’s going to say “Well, he shouldn’t have
    been out unescorted.” If you fail a math test, no one’s going to say
    “Yeah, those people suck at math.”
  31. Contrariwise, there will be things other people have to do to keep
    body and soul together that cross the line of societal
    acceptability. Don’t do those things yourself, but have some empathy
    for people who have to.
  32. Logic merely enables one to be wrong with authority
  33. Tipping is not optional. If the service was terrible, you leave a
    tip, and you also complain to the manager. Waitstaff are paid below
    minimum wage by an amount that assumes you will tip them, so when you
    don’t, you are stiffing them on their wages. Yes, I know this
    is a terrible system and we should not let people be paid below the
    minimum wage on the assumption of tipping. That does not excuse you
    for not tipping, and anyone who thinks they’re striking a blow
    against the system is an asshole.
  34. No means no.
  35. Contrariwise, yes means yes.
  36. Love isn’t a license to hurt someone.
  37. Modesty is only a virtue when it’s deserved. Don’t play down what
    you’re really capable of.
  38. People who insist you should always finish what you start don’t
    start enough things. Hardly any that are really worthwhile.
  39. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
  40. Don’t tell strangers that they should smile more.
  41. Always use protection.
  42. The poor do not exist for you to become a better person by giving
    to them.
  43. If you find yourself apologizing in advance, you’ve still got time
    to not do the thing you’re apologizing for.
  44. Sometimes, you have to break the rules. But if you’re not willing
    to face the penalty if you get caught, then this was not one of those
  45. This world we live in isn’t some kind of immutable law of nature
    that was inevitably destined to be as it is. It is the result of
    choices made by a lot of people over a long time. It may be daunting,
    but this world is your world, and ultimately you get to decide what
    that means. The world is, at any moment, what you say it is. So say.
  46. Sometimes in life, you are going to be in a position where there
    isn’t an option that doesn’t harm someone. Take responsibility when it
    happens. Don’t try to come up with a reason that the person who got
    shafted somehow deserved what they got. You made a choice, and if you
    can’t deal with that, then you made the wrong choice.
  47. All things in moderation. When I left for college, your grandfather
    took me aside, and instead of warning me off of alcohol and drugs and
    women, he gave me just that one piece of advice.
  48. Be passionate when it’s called for. There is no virtue in
    being moderate about the defense of justice, of liberty, of equality.
  49. Don’t blame the victim. Ever.
  50. Do not side with the strong against the weak. End of story. If
    you’re ever unsure, if you’re ever unclear on a question like “Should
    we give tax cuts to the rich, or jobs programs to the poor?” or
    “Shouldn’t we protect the rights of rich straight white male
    christians to oppress poor black lesbian pagan women as their religion
    requires?”, you just say to yourself “Do not side with the strong
    against the weak,” and then, do the thing that doesn’t side you with
    the strong against the weak. Even if it seems dumb. Even if you’ve got
    a good, sound, logical reason for why the weak are in the wrong in
    this particular case. Do not side with the strong against the weak.

I love you, son.

3 thoughts on “Fifty Words of Wisdom to My Son on the Occasion of His Birth

  1. Pingback: For my daughter | A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

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