50 anti-rules

I saw this meme being widely shared on Facebook. I shouldn’t be surprised that cynicism like this is popular, but I’m still bothered by it.

Bill Gates recently gave a speech at a High School about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good, politically correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world.

Rule 1: Life is not fair – get used to it!

Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent’s generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.

The meme is wrong about the source; the 11 “rules” come from a 2007 book titled 50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School, Real-World Antidotes to Feel-Good Education, and it was written by conservative columnist and radio host Charlie Sykes.

I probably shouldn’t do this, but I can’t stop myself from responding to the 11 rules that supposedly nobody will ever learn in school:

Rule 1: Life is not fair – get used to it!

Way to inspire people, Charlie! This is a great way to start a list of “rules” you want everyone everywhere to learn and live by.  Who wouldn’t look at a rule like DON’T EXPECT FAIRNESS and not feel a surge of hope for the future and a desire to go on, besides practically everybody?

Strictly speaking, though, Charlie got it wrong. Life is absolutely fair. Life itself makes no judgments at all. If Life somehow had the power to judge you according to how you lived, then all the people who were always kind and helped others would live long and happy lives, while wicked, selfish people would perish horribly of pestilence and rot long before they reached old age. It doesn’t work that way because there is nothing more impartial than Life. You’re born, you live, you die, and while you’re alive you get the same chance to do good or bad as anybody else. Totally fair.

People, on the other hand, will regularly treat one another unfairly because they almost constantly judge one another, and frequently do a bad job of it, which leads me to propose an alternative to Rule 1: Be fair with people, always. They may not always be fair to you in return, but it’s the right thing to do and at least you’re bringing some measure of fairness into the world.

Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Maybe I shouldn’t make too much of the fact that Charlie’s first two rules are DON’T EXPECT FAIRNESS and NOBODY CARES WHETHER YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF, but if I had to form an opinion of him based on these two rules, I’d say he seems like a cynical person. I hope he eventually got a dog or made a friend who was nice to him.

The idea that people do not care whether or not you respect yourself is, frankly, bullshit. That’s not my experience at all, and I doubt it’s Charlie’s experience, either. I think Charlie probably knows as well as I do that people will judge you harshly if you hate yourself. People expect you to hold yourself in high regard. People care very much about your self-esteem.

And this is not a controversial opinion, but in light of Rule 2 I feel compelled to say that caring about other people’s feelings, whether those feelings are joy or anguish or anywhere in between, is a big part of being a decent person. My Rule # 2 would be: Bring some compassion into the world in whatever way you can, small or large.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

This is a bald-faced lie. Some people WILL make 60K right out of high school. Some will already be unbelievably rich BEFORE high school, or junior high, or grade school. That’s just a fact. It seems pretty likely, though, that Charlie didn’t make 60K out of high school and, for some reason, he doesn’t want anybody else to show him up by thinking they will.

Here’s my rule # 3: Don’t listen to anybody who tells you what you will or won’t do. In all likelihood, people who dump shit like this on you are grouchy curmudgeons who are still pissed they weren’t making 60K their first year out of high school.

Also: “car phone” — LOL!

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss.

“Wait until you get a boss” sounds like another way of saying “if the boss you get is anything like the boss I got, he will make you more miserable than your teacher ever did.”

I didn’t think my teachers were tough. I’m not even sure what Charlie means by “tough.” I thought most of my teachers were pretty great. Some were boring, a few were jerks, but most of them were good at inspiring me to do good work, challenging me to do better work, and expecting me to do my best. That’s not “tough.” That’s nothing more than you would do for a good friend. I’m not saying your teacher or your boss has to be your friend to be good; I’m saying a good teacher or a good boss will know how to inspire you. A “tough” boss will just order you to do it.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

There are so many things wrong with this “rule.”

Flipping burgers is not beneath anybody’s dignity. Flipping burgers is one of the most satisfying activities I can think of. Standing in my back yard, beer in one hand, spatula in the other, relishing the thought of the delicious meal to come: I can’t think of a more relaxing way to unwind at the end of a hectic day in the office.

And if somebody wanted to pay me to flip burgers? Hell yes! Sign me up! It might get a bit repetitive some days, but I’ll happily flip your burgers all day long — what’s that? You don’t want me all day? You want me to flip burgers for less than forty hours a week so you don’t have to pay me for full-time work?

See, Charlie, what’s beneath my dignity, and should be beneath anybody’s dignity, is being given no choice but to work for part-time wages that barely cover my expenses when my boss is a corporation that dependably rakes in billions of dollars of profit for its shareholders. My dignity, Charlie, is not something I should have to swallow in order to get a leg up in the world.

And you don’t know my grandparents, so don’t put words in their mouths. They probably would have worked for minimum wage but they would have worked for ten cents a day if it came to that, because they came of age during The Great Depression. When you’re flipping burgers because there are no other jobs available to you, that’s not opportunity, that’s just survival, and it doesn’t leave much room for dignity.

Here’s my Rule # 5: Don’t take advantage of anybody. Whether you’re hiring people to flip burgers or split the atom, pay them a wage they can live off of, enough to pay the bills and have some left over. And if you’re a worker, don’t take jobs where they don’t pay you a fair wage. Your dignity is worth that much.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

I’m in the awkward position of having to agree with this rule on a technicality, because “learn from your mistakes” is good advice. So is “don’t whine.” If Charlie had said, “If you mess up, don’t whine about it; learn from your mistakes,” I’d stand one-hundred percent in agreement with him, but the oddly specific don’t-blame-your-parents vibe gives me the feeling maybe Charlie made some parenting choices that resulted in more pushback from his kids than he thought he’d get.

I disagree with this rule on principle, though. Parents do lots of things that directly result in kids making mistakes. Just one example: Parents who hit their kids make some of those kids think hitting kids is okay. Definitely the parents’ fault.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent’s generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

I hate this “rule” so much. The clunky metaphor in the last line is bad enough, but the way Charlie turned raising kids into a huge guilt trip ought to be a hanging offense.

First of all, any bills that parents paid were never the kids’ bills. They were the parents’ bills. Kids don’t rack up bills, and they don’t owe parents the money it cost to raise them. When parents brings kids into the world, it’s entirely the parents’ duty to feed, clothe, and shelter their kids without any conditions, because it was their choice to bring kids into this world in the first place. There is no contract, no payment due, because kids can’t consent from the other side of the womb! Parents pay the bills because it’s their duty as parents! And because it’s their duty, they don’t hang it over the heads of their kids, ever.

And listening to kids is not a chore! Listening to kids hatching their plans for saving the world is a privilege. Listen to them and talk with them. Help them develop those ideas. Do it with enthusiasm, because your enthusiasm becomes theirs.

Washing their clothes is, I admit, a chore, but again, that’s what parents do, and kids don’t owe parents anything for it.

At some point all kids start to act like they’re too cool for their parents. That’s how they let their parents know they’re getting ready to hit the road. Good parents recognize this and don’t sneer at their kids because of it.

Finally, if your parents are boring now, chances are excellent they were always boring. If you know for a fact they used to be interesting but now they’re boring, well, sometimes people decline cognitively. That’s not anybody’s fault but Mother Nature’s.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

There is so much wrong with Rule #8. The idea that there have to be losers, for starters. You don’t have to make everything a competition to feel good about yourself. If you do, I won’t be your loser just because we both want the same thing.

I don’t know how I feel about grades, but I’m all for giving kids as many chances as they need to get the right answer. That’s called learning from mistakes, which Charlie championed in rule # 6. What’s it matter how many times they do it, so long as they get it right? Why should kids get a limited number of chances to get the right answer and be labeled a loser if they don’t? That doesn’t even make sense.

As far as school bearing any resemblance to real life: Well of course it doesn’t. School is supposed to be the place where kids get all the chances they need to get the right answer before they have to go face “real life.” It’s supposed to be a place to practice for what comes after. (Whether it is or not is an entirely different rant.)

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Man, that’s dark. It’s even darker in another version of this list:

Rule No. 9: Life is not divided into semesters, and you don’t get summers off. Not even Easter break. They expect you to show up every day. For eight hours. And you don’t get a new life every 10 weeks. It just goes on and on. While we’re at it, very few jobs are interested in fostering your self-expression or helping you find yourself. Fewer still lead to self-realization.

What the hell does that even mean, “life is not divided into semesters?” I suppose Charlie doesn’t divide his life into weeks, either, or spend the occasional weekend in front of the television drinking beer and watching the football game, or whatever he does for fun.

As far as “finding yourself” is concerned, I don’t even want my employer messing with my personal life. If my boss tried to give me personal advice, I’d politely tell him to mind his own goddamn business and let me get back to work.

Here’s my rule # 9: People who don’t take time off from their jobs now and then are considered workaholics who end up guzzling Maalox straight out of the bottle to control their acid reflux.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

I don’t know when these rules were written but I suspect it was before people started hovering over their laptops in coffee shops all day, making money. Kids, you may disregard rule # 10. It’s another bald-faced lie.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.

Two things:

Either Charlie’s a nerd and this is a warning that he’s looking forward to revenge for all the times he was pantsed, or Charlie’s not a nerd and this is a warning he’s passing along after a boss or two of his got revenge on him for pantsing them back in grade school.

Either way, I thought you were supposed to be nice to others because that’s how you would like others to behave towards you. (I’m not sure if the Golden Rule applies to people who like it when others pick a fight with them.) You’re a total shitheel if the only way to get you to be nice to people is to warn you you might end up working for a person you used to treat like shit.

Friday, July 30th, 2021 at 4:56 pm CDT
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