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"Principles of Adult Behavior" by JP Barlow (gist.github.com)
158 points by sinak 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments

I was expecting a list of explanations. Something that will explain to me the fundamental principles that lead adults to behave the way they do in the real world. Like why they have to look so serious when you make eye contact in a coffee shop... etc.

Instead I was delivered a list of idealistic commandments prescribing behavior that does not really occur that often out in the field. Which is ironically something an adult would do.

> idealistic commandments

You know the people in your life that can earn the respect of others almost effortlessly? They do most of the things on this list. The majority of adults act like petulant kids, and that's why a lot of adults are fucking miserable. Don't be one of those adults.

I think the moods of adults can't change as quickly as kids. If someone is thinking about something with a serious look on their face and you flash them a big grin it creates something of a cognitive dissonance since their mood is at a certain point in emotional space and you just generated some emotion too far from the initial point. To stop this dissonance from forming you have to lead them along from point a to point b one step at a time.

Since the mood of a child can change so quickly you can just make a silly face and their mood will be pulled along to the emotion you just caused them to have. Unless of course, you make a silly face at a kid who is about to cry, that's a sure fire way to annoy them.

I think you can also see this difference in the way kids and adults make small talk. "Nice weather we're having" versus "I love pokemon what's your favorite pokemon".

Here is your list of explanations, at least for why they have to look so serious in coffee shops... 1) their vision is declining so they may furrow their brow to improve their vision when making eye contact, 2) they know not to trust people that smile all of the time, 3) they have other people, typically their children, to worry about, 4) and 5) they are more likely to have been up for several hours and had their expectations of the day's schedule changed before arriving at said coffee shop, and 6) they don't want to be seen as flirting with a younger person and potentially invite public ridicule

Well, I could argue that people are waiting to tell you the principles of their behavior, but you've yet to ask. If people look serious in a coffee shop, it's acceptable to ask them why they look serious. Perhaps the commandments could guide you through the process of extracting and understanding a person's motivations in their own words.

The commandments are meant to help you improve your own behavior. As you improve your own behavior, people will confide more information about themselves in you, and your understanding of what makes people tick will grow. You'll have more intuition about how someone will react to a given scenario. Use the principles to improve your own attitude and behavior so that others pass information to you more easily.

The implementation of this comes down to your clear communication (through both word and body language) that you embody the 25 commandments to everyone you meet. They will receive such a person with great pleasure. As you communicate with them, they'll freely dispense their motivations and dreams to you for study.

> If people look serious in a coffee shop, it's acceptable to ask them why they look serious.

It is never acceptable to ask a stranger in a coffee shop why they look serious.

>>"they'll freely dispense their motivations and dreams to you for study"

This must be satire or sarcasm, but the parent got me at the beginning.

Well, adults have multiple threads of parallel thought. They are definitely more engrossed in their internal world than children. For example: Consider meeting a friend and not recollecting their name, sometimes their name pops into our minds after a couple of days without us actively pondering or being burdened by the finding process. A majority of adults truly aren't in the moment so to speak, juggling multiple choices that surround their day does cause cognitive load.

Also, the need to instinctively smile is replaced with conditional reciprocation based on what they see and assess. That's learned behaviour.

Munger's Psychology of Human Misjudgement might provide some relevant explanation: http://fermatslibrary.com/s/the-psychology-of-human-misdguge...

Or not.

I try to find out why he made this list, and here is what I found on the google.


> ... In any event, it occurred to me that, past 30, I could no longer defend my peccadillos on basis of youth. I would have to acquire some minimal sense of responsibility. While I didn't want to be a grown-up, I wanted at least to act like one in the less toxic and stultifying sense of the term.

> So, I sat down around 2 am on October 3, 1977 and I drew up this list of behavioral goals that I hoped might assist in this process. ...

Quite a few seem to be based on Stoicism.

Incidentally, I was watching last night Tim Minchin (an Australian comedian)'s address[1] when receiving his honorary doctorate, and there is a fair bit of overlap

1: http://www.timminchin.com/2013/09/25/occasional-address/

Some of these things are pretty good things to be mindful about in adult life, most of them in fact.

However, applying them all would make you the worlds biggest doormat.

> However, applying them all would make you the worlds biggest doormat.

How so? Nowhere does it say "prioritize others desires ahead of your own" or "back down easily" or "tolerate assholes", it just says to be aware that they believe they're right.

I was going to accuse you of mean and nasty things for being at odds with the list, but then I saw in the list that you have to assume good intentions of other people. Shucks.

It seems to me a good list to aspire to and perhaps frequently break a couple. Anything I disagree with in that list, I can also see the other argument, and I can admit that from a certain perspective the list is making the morally correct point.

I didn't know much about this guy, but RIP.

They are principles; meant to be guiding rules of thumb, but of course not meant to be applied blindly and systematically. Otherwise they would be dogma.

Agree too much. I'm not sure where the author is from. This all sounds great on paper, but life is a lot messier.

The author has a great experience with a messy life -- he's John Perry Barlow.

In case you're wondering how these came about though, from his AMA:

> In fact, the night before I turned 30, I found myself so surprised to have reached an age of indisputable adult that I wrote up a set of "adult principles" that I've been trying to live up to for 35 years.

I get where the guy is coming from. It's the pipe dream we'd like to live in.

What does the phrase "blood sport" mean here? Giving up literal blood sports seems so obvious as to not be worth mentioning, but metaphorical ones so vague that there's probably a better way to phrase it.

In my mimd, this roughly translates to: don't orchestrate the misfortune of others for your own entertainment or gain.

In the business world, I think this comes down to scamming or defrauding people

> Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Don’t risk it frivolously.

I have a rule that mixes the blood sport and the one I quoted above. There are a class of sports/hobbies that, as you progress and improve, you find yourself in more objectively dangerous situations in order to continue to progress.

Some sports are obvious, like boxing and skydiving. But even seemingly innocent activities have this property, like long-boarding and mountain biking. Pretty much anything that goes down hills :(

I'll pick those up hobbies again after this phase of life when rule 12 dominates.

Here is an example. I dated a guy, divorced two daughters 4 & 6 and he wanted to get a motorcycle. As if anything could be comparably important to family or children for that matter because it can't, he was the CEO and founder of a tech startups (so to this point in the companies development, from my limited perspective though he shared a great deal with me about the business, we not one in which there would be a stable replacement for him and thus the company and 400 people's and their families that relied on this company for jobs) I was only dating him for four months but I told him he was being genuinely selfish for entertaining the idea of buying a motorcycle and his ego was getting the way of his priorities.

I never tried to control him or any part of his life, but I made it clear that I would not date him if he got a Ducati with two young daughters and I deemed it a selfish life decision. Needless to say, this ego bled into other areas of his life and our relationship that made it intolerable to date him.

I would imagine that this tenant relies somewhat on being in a place of responsibility where you have made it so that others people's well being relies on you somehow, and your lack of existence/leadership/consequences of your bad decisions affect other people than just yourself.

Can I still watch football?

That's actually prescient with the NFL concussion crisis.

I'm not sure anymore.


Make it easy on yourself and don't overthink it - simply refrain from (as found on the internets):

  - Badger-baiting
  - Bear Baiting
  - Bull Fighting
  - Cock Fighting
  - Cock Throwing - a rooster is tied to a post and people took turns throwing sticks at it until the rooster died.
  - Dog Fighting
  - Goose Pulling - a goose was hung by its legs while a man on a horseback would attempt to grab it by the neck to try and pull its head off
  - Bear Baiting was another cruel blood sport
  - Fox Tossing - with a person on each end of a sling tossed the fox upwards, the team with the highest throw would win.
  - Rat-baiting
  - Venatio - played out in Roman amphitheaters involving the hunting and killing of wild animals.

As someone who enjoys training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I choose to take it non-literally.

JPB has died. See https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2018/02/john-perry-barlow-inte... and comments/discussion there. JPB's Principles of Adult Behavior are worthy goals for life.

I appreciate these and I'm not trying to rain on a parade. But aren't these all completely obvious? The challenge I'm spending my life on is figuring out how to achieve these consistently.

They are obvious when you read them. That's why they're good principles. Make a calendar event for 1 month from now, and look back on the previous month to see if you adhered to them. Personally, I will not have adhered to all of them. That makes them non-obvious to me

I think the point of these sorts of posts isn’t to give you new insights or practical advice, but just to reafirm that these are the right things to focus on.

It’s very easy to get sidetracked or confused, so there’s utility in being reminded that there are other people who share the same values as you.

> The challenge I'm spending my life on is figuring out how to achieve these consistently.

YMMV but for me some of these came naturally with time.

This is a pretty good list of principles that one could use as a foundation for system of beliefs. However, I believe that one should learn about the situations in which these principles apply and don't. IMO, that is what adults are good at. That is what one should thrive to learn.

An example to consider: when thinking about rule 1, it doesn't make any sense to wait patiently in a line when others are cutting in. One has to stand up for himself/herself and say something.

All of these seem sensible except "Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that."

"Your mission" is simply a placeholder for what you believe will make you happy. It's very subject to change. I'd argue that a healthy respect for what makes you happy can help you avoid a mission that you'll later regret.

It seems sensible to me. (It's a huge subject but:) I think he's referring to the well-known paradox where aiming directly for happiness doesn't work; instead going for meaningful goals that will give satisfaction does. Asking "Am I happy?" constantly stops you being so. etc.

>"Your mission" is simply a placeholder for what you believe will make you happy.

Simply?! Well no. Even without that, it doesn't seem right. I think I know what you meant, (like I think you know what he meant) but the two aren't always equivalent. Some people have important and unattainable goals that they know won't make them happy. Or doing your duty, like taking care of sick family etc. More to do with meaning than happiness. It sounds like you would argue no-one can do anything but what they believe will make them happy.

And Socrates and Kierkegaard etc realized that often in life we would regret either of two choices. The grass is always greener, and feeling regret doesn't mean the other choice would have been better. (e.g. To marry or not)

Yes. Another way to look at it is the bottom line of various non-dual/mystical teachings which is basically that the best way to achieve lasting happiness is to eliminate the seeker of it (of course, not in a physical sense) - or put more accurately, to realize that the very illusion of the personal self is the root cause of the unhappiness.

OK, I see why people like this list. But I would definitely argue with several of the principles presented.

Here are some examples.

Be patient. No matter what. There are times when presenting impatience is the right way to get results. They are usually overused, but deadlines do have a proper place in your motivational toolbox.

Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you. Never? And what if the other is lying, cheating and stealing? I fully agree with "do not lightly assume", but "never" is the wrong standard.

Never lie to anyone for any reason. (Lies of omission are sometimes exempt.) If a person is using force to attempt to steal from me, or harm those I care about, it is fine for me to lie to them in self-defense. Again, "never" is the wrong standard.

Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun. I find that people are much more likely to accept and act on criticism if I tell a story about myself which parallels the problem that I see. (Sadly "much more" does not mean "very".) This is a concrete example of how my increasing my use of "the first personal pronoun" was a good thing, not a bad one.

Remember that love forgives everything. Only if you define forgiveness in the right way. If someone steals from me, and I have a loving understanding of them, then I can forgive them their past action. But I still probably shouldn't put myself in a position where they can steal from me in the future.

Endure. I did that with my ex for a quarter century. I learned that some things SHOULD NOT be endured. My life is much better now.

Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you. Never? And what if the other is lying, cheating and stealing?

Never assume does not preclude the possibility of drawing conclusions based on firm evidence. It merely cautions against prejudice.

I will note that people living in abusive situations or under oppressive regimes may learn to lie, cheat and steal to survive. They may feel justified. They may even feel they are nobly standing up against evil.

There is some truth to the idea that you need middle class means to afford middle class morality.

> Again, "never" is the wrong standard.

You can assume never means “outside of extreme extenuating circumstances”, since that’s how it’s generally used in common speech.

The point of the list is to reduce the best human behavior into a small cheat sheet. It's like boilerplate that includes all the important functions.

The complexity of the environment created by and occupied by human experiences is infinite. There are infinite scenarios that humans find themselves in, and there are infinite positive responses to those scenarios. You can take any positive human response to a given scenario and "disprove" the response's positive outcome by changing something about the scenario. But once you do that, you introduce other positive responses that could taken instead.

The principles boil down it into 25 patterns of human behavior that tend to result in success for the individual and his/her greater community. The list is an optimum solution: lowest number of characters for the highest amount of good outcome if followed. When confronting the complexity of existence, a set of guidelines is useful to refer to.

However, anyone that consults a list of principles when their family is in danger is likely not smart enough to comprehend the list anyways, so it does not apply to them.

Not using absolute terms like "never", and instead using terms like "almost never" or "except in emergencies", would acknowledge and allow for the complex realities you describe, without adding significantly to the number of characters (an absurd metric) and without sacrificing clarity.

In fact JP acknowledges reality when he excepts lies of omission. So the fact that he doesn't do so in other obvious places is strange.

You're left with some rules that are easy to prove nonsensical and easily dismissed. Which is unfortunate.

More correctly, it is someone's opinion about what an optimum solution might be.

I disagree with that opinion, for reasons that I explained above.

You're also not interested in debating your opinions, which is your right but also frustrating.

The reductive nature of lists like this one is unavoidable. That’s why they have to be edited really well. Sadly, this one is not. It’s a pity that this is so upvoted just because JPB died today. He wrote way more interesting and important things.

A more cynical view is that lists of principles are for those who can't decide for themselves.

> Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you. Never? And what if the other is lying, cheating and stealing?

Motives, not actions. Odds are pretty high that the shared motivation for you and the lying, cheating, stealing other is to achieve the best outcome possible for yourselves, you're just going about it in different ways.

One way this advice manifests practically is that, as a rule, people are not "out to get you", they're just looking out for themselves, and it's much easier to deal with them when you understand that.

Nope, that makes no sense at all. Making yourself a cake is almost always more noble than stealing a cake, even if the motives in both circumstances are to eat some cake.

And let's not bring up the counterexample of a poor mother stealing a cake to feed her child. Some people steal cakes just because they're dicks, and if your worldview doesn't account for that it's lacking.

> I fully agree with "do not lightly assume", but "never" is the wrong standard.

I think there's a distinction to be made between "assume" and "conclude" that might better capture what you're getting at. If I'm deciding that your motives are ignoble based on evidence, it's not an assumption.

Agreed. I would say: Never, ever lie to yourself. Lies to others are sometimes justified — but be honest with yourself about when that is.

yeah, I think some are overstated with the expectation that people will not adhere to them perfectly

> Live memorably


That one's a bit iffy, but I would argue that living memorably and living consequentially probably go hand in hand, but still iffy because some great contributors aren't popular, and some popular people are morally unwell.

Thanks for posting this!

Lame and not very elegant at all. Better authors have said this in more concise and interesting ways.

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