The Zeroth Law of Lyttleton – Nothing Upon Another’s Word
“Nullius in Verba” was the motto of the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge (or, NAMBLA), back in the day, which, translated into English is, “Nothing Upon Another’s Word.” For me, this is foundational, and thus the zeroth law. It is the fundamental bedrock of science that laws and theories must be testable and not merely the parlance of somebody trying to sell you a faster, sleeker perpetual motion machine. In the same way, I take most everything I am told with a grain of salt (kosher).
How many of those lovely forwarded e-mails have you received that try to make a political or religious or moral point by quoting some random statistic or past event or by claiming that “This story was told by a professor at M.I.T.” If the message doesn’t strike a chord with you, you’ll more than likely delete it and not think about it. But I bet you’ve forwarded at least one of those messages if it happened to be making a point about your pet cause of belief. And did you bother to fact check the e-mail before you hit the Forward button? Of course not. (Snopes.com really is an invaluable source the next time you want to create a Facebook page decrying an artist for starving a dog; it could be true, but don’t just be reactionary, know all the facts.)
These e-mail messages are notoriously full of shit, and it amazes me that people will trust the word of some unnamed, unspecified ‘Professor from M.I.T.’ via a forwarded e-mail, but when accredited, respected biologists explain evolution, suddenly they get all skeptical.
I consider myself a skeptic, but I’m not a doubter for the sake of doubting. The guy at the pulpit on Sunday morning, the gal in your breakroom at work and the tranny on your television screen (I always have to mention Glenn Beck at least once) all have one thing in common: What they say may or may not be true, but it doesn’t mean shit if they can’t prove it. A healthy dose of skepticism is a powerful tool, though only if it’s coupled with a willingness to do the research. A person who believes nothing at all is no wiser than the person who believes everything.
The First Law of Lyttleton – Be Considerate, But Not Nice
There are 3 types of people in this world (go with me): Nice people, considerate people and jerks. The jerks are going to do their own thing, and all you can hope is that something bad happens to them, like a car accident or their mom walking in on them while they’re wanking it. Jerks exist because nice people exist. The happy medium is the considerate person.
Now, despite what your thesaurus might lead you to believe, a nice person is not the same as a considerate person. This may be mere semantics but, well, goddamit, I like my semantics (“You anti-semantic bastard!“). You, see the difference between a nice person and a considerate person is that while the nice person is getting walked all over, the considerate person makes sure everyone gets what they want, including themselves. Just look at the word ‘considerate’. It means someone who considers the situation they’re in and having analyzed the options, picks the one that does the most good for the most amount of people. Yes, it’s Ethics 101, but it is an important distinction.
As an example, imagine you’re driving and you pull up to a 4-way stop. Basic driving rules says the person on the right gets right away. This is the sort of simple, logical concept that seems to slip straight out of the minds of people once they sit behind the steering wheel. When a jerk pulls up to the 4-way, he very well will just rush through, cutting in front of whomever had right of way. The nice guy on the other hand, finishing last as usual, just sits at the stop, waving others through in front of him and annoying everyone because he isn’t taking his turn. Both the jerk and the nice guy end up holding up traffic. The considerate person, on the other hand, keeps the flow of traffic moving by not cutting and not confusing people with unnecessary ‘selflessness’. Four considerate people at a stop is a well-oiled machine.
Essentially, you’ll recognize this as a kind of Prisoner’s Dilemma, the basic yet complex bit of Game Theory that explores what is better, self-interest or group-interest. However, whereas the nice guy is screwed by the jerk, I’d argue that in many situations, the considerate person still comes out on top. Perhaps he doesn’t get as far ahead as the jerk gets (certain jerks will always succeed and will even get a second shot at hosting the Tonight Show… zing!), but the considerate guy doesn’t flat out lose like the nice guy. And in fact, the considerate guy may best the jerk on occasion.
Take the 4-way stop example again. The considerate person pulls up, allows the person on his right to go and then proceeds through the stop. Only, a jerk showed up to his left and instead of waiting his turn, he pulled straight through. Car Accident! Now, that might not sound like a win for the considerate guy, but the fact is, the jerk is at fault and will be responsible for paying for the damages which includes the right tail light that was already broken beforehand, but fuck it, put it on the jerk’s tab.
The world’s a complex place, and the jerks will win most times. But if you don’t want to be a jerk, don’t think that you have to be mindlessly nice. A considerate person does right by others, yet never loses sight of the bigger picture and doesn’t end up waiting at the stop sign until the apocalypse.
The Second Law of Lyttleton – Prepare for Everything, Plan for Nothing
Like the Nice/Considerate dichotomy in the first law, this may seem like splitting hairs. But I assure you, there is a major difference between preparing and planning. As I go about this not entirely reasonable goal of living in 10 cities in 10 years, I must constantly be preparing for what comes next, and all the many unexpected happenings that could possibly derail my ambitions. Financial problems, health issues, personal relationships; all of these things and many more could conceivably become a disruption in the process. While I cannot possibly foresee every possible bump in the road, I can do my best to be prepared like a good Boy Scout. I save money religiously and I anticipate unexpected expenses in my budget by always rounding down how much money I have (and how much I will make). Essentially, I prepare for the worst, hope for the best and usually get somewhere in between.
That sort of foresightedness (not a word? Don’t care.) has saved my bacon plenty of times.
But I’ll tell you what I hate: Planning my life. Nothing bothers me more than having someone else try to tell me what I will (or should) be doing next year, or even in the next 5 months. I intentionally don’t settle on my next city until a couple months before the move because I like to let the free flow of chance enter into the equation. Philadelphia was a last minute choice. So was SoCal. San Fran wasn’t last minute, but the move changed considerably in the last 2 months (including who I moved with). Chicago was probably the most ‘planned’ of all my moves, though seeing as this city has always been on the list of next possible cities, Chicago was inevitably going to feel planned whenever I ended up here.
I don’t go to cities with itineraries, I don’t sit down and figure out my next move and I don’t try to map out the next 5 years of my life and hope to have my love life and career all settled by the time I’m 30 or 35 or 40 or whatever. Again, I prepare for any number of options, and no one is better than I at anticipating the future, but I will never try to rein it in and I won’t attempt to walk it down a set path.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: 10 Cities in 10 Years is about the experience, not the plan, and while I am fairly set on this goal, if I don’t make all 10 cities, or if I don’t do it in exactly 10 years, that won’t be the end of my world.
I’m traveling, and that’s the point.
Which brings me to the final law.
The Third Law of Lyttleton – The Road is Life
What needs to be said, really? This is the motto and the ideal that set me on the path I’m on, and for me that simple phrase represents so much. Yes, it means that I love to travel and that my favorite parts of life are those spent On The Road, but to me, ‘the road’ in that phrase from Kerouac’s most famous book also means Change. Change is life. Not simply acknowledging or accepting the changes that occur in life, but fully embracing them and jumping feet first into them like they were a rushing river.
Every change that occurs in your life will bring with it a portion of difficulty, whether it be a career change, a locale change or a relationship change. Most people spend their every waking breath ensuring that those things don’t change, and to me that’s sad. You have 60 or 70 or 80 (or 42) years on this planet, nothing before and nothing after, and all you want to do is make sure you experience the same thing again and again, day after day?
No, that’s not life. Life is at a great remove, always exceeding the horizon and challenging you to keep up, taunting you with the unseen and alluring you with possibilities. People will claim that life is about finding happiness. I think we should be a lot more ambitious.
7 thoughts on “Lyttleton’s Laws”
You should be a life coach. Seriously.
If I was someone’s life coach, I’d probably get them killed.
Which could be good.
It’d be a good marketing angle: Life coach for risk-takers.
That’ll be the tagline on my business card.
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