With New Year resolutions fast approaching, I’ve finished reading a most useful book, Charles J. Sykes, “50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School.” These rules aren’t entirely for school kids as yours truly falls short on a number of “rules.”
On January 31, 1986, Ronald Reagan spoke to the nation at the memorial service after the space shuttle Challenger disaster. He reminded us that: “All human progress is a struggle against the odds. We learned again that this America, which Abraham Lincoln called the last best hope of man on Earth, was built on heroism and noble sacrifice…. We think back to the pioneers of an earlier century, and the sturdy souls who took their families and their belongings and set out into the frontier of the American West. Often, they met with terrible hardship. Along the Oregon Trail you can still see the grave markers of those who fell on the way. But grief only steeled them to the journey ahead.”
Sykes wrote: “Heroism? Sacrifice? Struggle? Hardship? Grief? What could Reagan have been thinking? What about self-esteem? Self-actualization? The power of the group hug? Somebody call child-protection services. Bring in the grief counselors, because obviously we have to protect the kids [adults] from this sort of thing.”
Rule 1: Life is not fair. Get used to it. The average teenager uses the phrase “It’s not fair” 8.6 times a day. The kids got it from their parents….
Rule 2: The real world won’t care as much as your school does about your self-esteem. It’ll expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.
Rule 3: Sorry, you won’t make sixty thousand dollars a year right out of high school. And you won’t be a vice president or have a car company. You may even have to wear a uniform that doesn’t have a designer label.
Rule 4: You are not entitled…. You are also not entitled to everything your parents have, or everything you see on TV or in magazines. You’ll have to work for all of it. And then figure out how to pay for it.
Rule 5: No matter what your daddy says, you are not a princess (or prince)…. The recent trend of five- and six-figure teen parties only adds to the sense of entitlement, see Rule 4. This also goes for adults in the current Age of Entitlement.
Rule 6: No you cannot be everything you dream…unless you have talent, education, and commitment to work for it.
Rule 7: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss. He or she won’t have tenure, so he or she will tend to be a bit edgier. When you screw up, he or she will not ask you how you feel about it. While we’re at it, few jobs foster your self-expression or help you find yourself. Fewer still lead to self-realization.
Rule 8: Your navel is not that interesting. Don’t spend your life gazing at it. The British philosopher John Stuart Mill once observed that the best way to avoid being depressed is to avoid being self-absorbed. Aiming at something else, they find happiness by the way.
Rule 9: Your school may have done away with winners and losers. Life hasn’t.
Rule 10: Life is actually more like dodgeball than your gym teacher thinks. It comes at you quickly; it requires alertness and skill; the outcome is unpredictable; the weak can sometimes overcome the strong; it involves elimination and has both winners and losers.
Rule 11: After you graduate, you won’t be competing against rivals who were raised to be wimps on the playground. It’s a jungle out there, and success in America is not noncompetitive, risk-free, self-esteem building….
Rule 12: Humiliation is part of life. Deal with it.
Rule 13: You’re not going to the NBA, so hold off on the bling and spare us the attitude.
Rule 14: Looking like a slut does not empower you.
Rule 15: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping. They called it opportunity.
Rule 16: Your parents and your little brother are not as embarrassing as you think. What’s embarrassing is ingratitude, rudeness, and sulkiness.
Rule 17: Your parents weren’t as boring before you were born as they are now. They got that way paying your bills, driving you around, saving for your education, cleaning up your room, and listening to you tell them how idealistic you are.
Rule 18: Life is not divided into semesters. And you don’t even get summers off. You don’t even get an Easter break. They expect you to show up every day. For eight hours.
Rule 19: It’s not your parents’ fault. If you screw up, you are responsible.
Rule 20: Smoking does not make you look cool…. It makes you look moronic. Next time you’re out cruising, watch an eleven-year-old with a butt in his mouth. That’s what you look like to anyone over twenty when you are smoking.
Rule 21: You’re offended? So what? No, really. So what? A willingness to be offended at the smallest slight is not a sign of superior consciousness – it is a decision to be a whiner and an emotional bully.
Rule 22: You are not a victim. So stop whining.
Rule 23: Someday you will have to grow up and actually move out of your parents’ house.
Rule 24: Batman’s girlfriend is right: “It’s not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you.”
Rule 25: Pi does not care what you think. The ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter is approximately 3.14159265358979323846. This isn’t like the debate about red versus purple pens: pi is what it is, no matter how you feel about it. Surgeons, firefighters, pilots, and architects have to get it right; Soft America just needs to feel OK about it.
To be continued.