I try to not make declarative statements about how you should or should not
act. Instead, I can tell you how I act (or try to act) and you can evaluate and
decide for yourself how worthwhile the positions I take are. What follows is
not exactly my guiding principles (rules) towards personal interactions, but
more like points on a graph that form a line that roughly correlates to how I
1. Always tell the truth
When you talk to someone they expect and deserve the truth. Not a convenient
half truth, or a palatable partial truth, but the whole unadulterated truth.
Why do they expect the truth, because talking is a verbal swapping of truths.
Have you ever asked a question of a person and wanted a lie? The whole point of
communication is accurate transfer of correct information. It is of no value to
receive information that is incorrect. Let us consider a possible interaction
where I lie.
Coworker 1: Paul can you explain to me how this widget works? Paul: Yes it
works like this, BLAH BLAH BLAH.
From the outside it looks truthful and it helps me preserve face for the
moment, but there is no good long term benefit. The result of this interaction
for coworker 1 is they go back to her/his desk, they try to use the widget, and
things do not work out. Coworker 1 has gained nothing from the interaction,
starts to question my knowledge/skill, and now must now go find someone or
something else to get the information she or he needs. What is the result for
me? I have mislead someone who needs help and I have robbed myself of the excitement of not
knowing. Why did I do this? To save face, an endeavor that failed moments
later once my advice was tested. The whole concept of saving face was worthless
to begin with since the last thing
anyone cares about is me.
This is not an excuse to discharge your decorum. You can be gentle with your
truth, but it must be the truth.
2. Never leave anything on the table
Consider how easy it could be for you to die. Perhaps you get in a car crash
on your commute. Maybe you have a heart attack in the middle of the night. You
could electrocute yourself with a toaster during breakfast. As easy as it is
for you to die, so it is too for the people you know to die. Anytime you part
you could never see that person again. Given a long enough time scale this will
eventually become true. It is for this reason you must never leave something
unsaid or unresolved, because you may never get another chance. I call this
leaving things on the table. You have, through inaction, left some aspect of
your friendship/relationship unresolved: a debt, a argument, unexpressed
gratitude or feeling. Each time I say goodbye I ask myself, “have I left
something on the table”. It is a reminder to never forget our mortality and the
morality of others.
3. It is your fault if someone does not understand
I would say about 50% of the time I try and explain something to someone I
fail. I have a whole section of memory dedicated to the puzzled faced, the
confused look. It is tempting to place the blame on the person I am explaining
something to. It certainly would absolve me of wrongdoing, but how is this
helpful? The matter is left unresolved, the person left uneducated. It is your
job to spread knowledge. It is for this reason that anytime you try and explain
something to someone and fail the fault is yours alone. When you finish
explaining something say this phrase: “does that make sense?”. If the answer is
anything other than a clear “yes” then try again. Use more general terms, use a
simpler metaphor, explain less in one shot.
4. No one owes you anything
It would be nice to always be told the truth, to always be respected, to
always be valued, but by default these intangibles are not owed to you. The
only respect given to you is that which is accorded by the law. The rest you
pay for by keeping your word, being reasonable, being honest. Everything you
have must be earned. Consider this quote from a book I once claimed to have
read, The Bell Jar:
If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.
With this philosophy, if someone lets you down, mistreats you, does not help
you when you are in need, no worries you never expected it to be any other way.
This seems, initially, to be incredibly negative. It assumes the worst in
people. This is a charge I will not dispute. I posit the benefit from this
philosophy is in the moments when your expectation is refuted. It is the time
when you expect nothing, but are given everything. It is the experience of
having your wallet returned when you lost it, the relief of someone helping you
carry a heavy load, the welcome advice to resolve a problem. When you expect
nothing / are owed nothing every time you are proved wrong becomes a gift.
5. Never waste a person’s time
Time is a finite resource to a person. Never waste it. If they do not care
about what you have to say, best to not say it. If you do speak, get to the
point. If you told them you would be there at 5:00PM, be there at 4:50PM so
they do not have to waste time waiting on you. Give reasonable estimates of how
long a task will take. Apologize if the task takes longer even if it is not
your fault. Any interaction with others uses a person’s time. Make them feel it
was worth it.
Not sure I was able to capture everything here. I have other thoughts, but
they are too nebulous to commit to yet. Perhaps there will be a follow up