Jacob Heric


I prefer not to

Elevenses for Life

These are the things I hope to teach my kids, mostly by example, over the course of their lives. I’m recording them so that they can read them if something should happen to me. It’s important to note that by articulating these I am not claiming to have accomplished them. In fact, I have failed largely at each. But, they remain goals nonetheless.

  1. Don’t lie. Also, don’t lie to yourself. Almost all insoluble troubles in life can be traced directly back to a moment when you confronted discomfort and you responded by lying to forestall that discomfort. Discomfort forestalled metastasizes. The way to avoid this problem is to notice discomfort. When you feel uncomfortable, don’t measure your words and thoughts, just say them. Always walk directly into awkwardness. This activity will seem against your instinct. But life itself is a persistence against an instinct (the instinct not to be). Acceptance of discomfort dissipates discomfort. Honesty is the path to dissipation. Honesty is happiness.

  2. Do not fear poverty. Nearly every aspect of your popular culture will imply or insist that your value is directly related to the amount of money or things you possess. Money and things have no bearing on your worth or value as citizen and a human being. Your value as a citizen, as a member of civilization and as a human can be measured fairly simply by your thoughts and actions as they contribute to or detract from the well being of your community. In a culture infested with cupidity, willful poverty is the entrance to a quality life. If you resist materialism alone, you are a success, for everywhere else resistance to being good is less.

  3. Do not fear loss and death. A life that does not end is meaningless. Eternity, in any form, would be unbearable. Every moment lived is a moment lost. Death is not the culmination of life but the process of living. Living is dying. If you can notice this as things go, as you lose them, you will find a measure of contentment. Losing yourself, letting go and living are synonyms for death. Though this is simple, I have not explained it well.

  4. Take responsibility for your superstitions. There are as many superstitions as there are people. For instance, god is a superstition. Superstitions are often necessary palliatives to make life endurable. They are not to be shunned or extirpated, only identified. Allow them to help you but name them for what they are: little helpers. Take responsibility for your little helpers. They are of your making and for your benefit. They have no intrinsic value and you should not try to attribute their value to any broader truth.

  5. Do not be precious. Do not take offense easily. Do not obsess over cleanliness or order. Start here: do not be a picky eater. It’s a small but important way to realize that your proclivities, your likes and dislikes, though they seem most elemental, they are really just arbitrary. They don’t define you. Though the strides you make with food may be small, they are ubiquitous, they amount to big change. If you can change what you like to eat, you can change your mind and behavior. You can do anything.

  6. Maintain your dignity when in a ditch. It goes without saying (therefore it is said often) that your character is measured by it’s exercise in difficult times. However it is not often said (and therefore bears saying) that a dignified janitor has more dignity than a dignified statesman. It is hardest to have and demonstrate character when you are in a position that demands no respect. Go out of your way to show respect to those that demonstrate it despite a lack of station. Try your hardest to be decent when your station is low.

  7. Dance and sing. Art is the highest human accomplishment. It is essential to happiness. While it may not be possible for you to express yourself in the “high” forms that garner collective accolades and that are canonized, you can dance and sing. When you dance and sing, you are making art, you are expressing yourself in an essential way. You are exercising your humanness. You will be happier for it.

  8. Praise doubt and doubt praise. Doubt in the face of consensus is always wise. And, there is hardly a surer sign of wrongness than a consensus of esteem. Respect authority and expertise, they are necessary for the transmission of knowledge. But be skeptical of authority and expertise, you cannot learn unless you doubt what you are given. With measured praise, you will acquire knowledge. With careful doubt, you will add to it. Both of these are hard as they require some self directed thinking.

  9. Be curious and kind. Learning makes us better. Curiosity is its means. Kindness is its method. Be curious about the world around you, animate and inanimate. Prod people and things, you will find out how they work. By knowing how the world works, you will be a better person to live in it. By knowing how people work, you will be a better person to live with.

  10. Be polite. Please and thank you make the world go round, literally. It is one of the first things you will learn in life, and if you practice it throughout, you will have lived well and will leave the world a better place.

  11. Laugh at everything, including this. There are no things in life that are too big, too small, too high minded, too sad or too sacred to laugh at. So start here. Laugh at my poor grammar, it’s funny. Laugh at my false certainty, it’s funny. Laugh at my glaring presumptuousness, it’s funny. Laugh at my utter failure with regard to each of these, that too is funny. Also, don’t forget to laugh at yourself. I’m laughing at you now because here you are at the end (you didn’t skip any did you?). I managed to transfer these to you. They are now yours, and that’s funny to me.