A few days ago, in a post called "Doubt and certainty," I wrote this:
I wrote a column for the editorial page a few years ago, and it's even truer now, that the older I get, the fewer things I am certain of. But I am more and more certain of those few things. That seems to me to be a normal progression, the way thinking people change. As we learn, we discard the certitude that comes from prejudice, our parent's views, "the way things have always been" and all sorts of other reflexive responses, and remain certain of only those things our experience tells us is true.
One of the comments was from Brian Stouder, who wrote:
I am not MORE certain 'of those few things'..I am lucky to hold the line - never mind INCREASING certainty!!
Which begs the question - what 'few things' are on your list of certainties?
My list would include things such as the intrinsic moral, psychological, emotional and practical VALUE of getting out of bed every morning and going to work (regardless what the job is); or the arbitrary burden of 'rightness' that every good parent must shoulder (and live up to) for their children; or that NOTHING good happens at 2 in the morning in parking lots....
I'm doing a new post on the subject instead of just answering Brian in the comments because I think it's a question whose answers would tell us a lot about people. It's the kind of question you always want to ask people you know but don't feel comfortable bringing up in casual conversation.
The few things on my list of core beliefs make up my world view and probably won't surprise anyone who has read my stuff with any regularity: 1. Freedom is the most important value; with it, all other things are possible, and without it, nothing is. 2. The goal of an individual should be to always live a more moral life, of an organized society to always become more civilized. 3. The most important invention of humankind is the rule of law, which is what protects us when people don't use No. 1 to do No. 2.
But, taking my cue from Brian, I will include a few of the rules I try to live by, based on how those core beliefs have played out in my experience. These are the kinds of principles I would like to hear about from other people. What are the rules of your life?
1. Most of the time, I act on what I believe to be my own best interests; it makes sense to believe that most of the people I encounter are acting in what they perceive to be their own best interests. If this seems like simple common sense, why do so few people actually seem to adhere to it? If so and so is a friend of mine or has similar views, he must have noble motives or a higher purpose. If he is an enemy or has different beliefs, he must have nefarious motives or be the devil incarnate. How else to explain people's refusal to acknowledge that leaders of big business, big labor, big government, the environmental movement and fundamentalist churches are the same kinds of people, prone to the same human weaknesses and equally capable of overcoming them ?
2. Actions have consequences. I read a slightly different version once, which I had tacked on my office wall for a number of years, the author unknown: In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences. Most of modern life, unfortunately, seems dedicated to the proposition that there are no consequences to anything. We can always get a second chance and never have to take responsibility.
3. Unless I'm causing you harm, leave me alone; if you aren't hurting me or mine, I'll leave you alone. This seems a little clearer to me than "live and let live."
4. Always try to be where you're supposed to be, doing what you're supposed to do. This will take care of about 90 percent of your life. And if you have to ask what it is you're supposed to do, you're not getting it.
5. Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig. I've seen variations on this in the last few years, but I first saw it on a sign that somebody painted in Nashville in Brown County. I bought it, and it has been on my office wall ever since. It means knowing when it is worth trying to change somebody's opinions or habits or actions and when it's not. We are all pigs about something, and it is part of learning about each other ("I can carry your baggage if you will try to carry mine") that we understand what to leave each other alone about.
6. Never go to bed with anyone crazier than you are. If you do the math, you will understand that 50 percent of the people violate this rule, which are not very good odds. I have found a foolproof way around it, but it limits my potential partners to those people who don't know the rule.