I whisper-yelled at some kids to kill their iPhones so I could concentrate on Fast Five. I’ve shot glares at compulsive throat clearers, volume junkies, and pencil-drumming Ringos at the library. I once released two magnificent birds at a Civic who (I found out immediately upon glancing past my righteous middle fingers) honked on accident whilst waiting for me to cross the street. I nearly ended a 10th grader at a concert because his girlfriend punched me in the face. I’m over 30.
Hi. I’m Cody. And I’m a recovering asshole.
“Asshole” is heavy--maybe “grouch” is better. The distinction is important because the two look a lot like twins but are, in the end, only brothers. An asshole doesn’t really become one until a grouch comes along and bestows the title. His is a lavish un-understanding, a cartoon fog of oblivion to any anger caused by his actions, which makes said anger kind of a lone tree falling. A tiny fart reporting forgettably into the wind.
Grouches are the farters. The ones who get it, who suffer the burden of knowing, impossibly observant, terminally offended. Grouches get to rage and define, define and collect, collect and obsess. Kanye says this kind of thing gives him a Tylenol. Noted (and agreed), but to me it feels like something less emotional, more like a Stupendous Waste of Very Limited Minutes on Earth. Outrage brought to you by That Tailgating Jerk is great fun to indulge. It’s just so boring, and it’s boring to hear about. A last resort in the list of things I want to be feeling at any given moment.
What’s more interesting to me is good behavior.
Go ahead, chew on everything connoted by “good behavior:”
- Principal Rooney
- Nurse Ratched
- anyone with “Principal” or “Nurse” before their first name
- bumper stickers about women who make history
- Bart Simpson in a shorts suit at church
- Calvin’s combed hair
All chewed? Great, now spit it out because forced conformity isn’t what we’re talking about. Acknowledging the human condition and pitching in to make it better--especially in little face-to-face ways--is. There’s “Tuck in your shirt because that’s what nice boys do” and there’s “Look the homeless guy in the eye when you give him a dollar because that’s what nice humans do.” I’m interested in the latter. Maybe “good citizenship” is a better name for it than “good behavior.” Could be they’re related like assholes and grouches, but if so, distantly.
I made a list about this once. It was part of a high school graduation gift for my little brother. A few of the men in Aaron’s life compiled a book of things they wished they’d known at 18 and gave it to him. My esteem for bullet points and procrastination is passionate, so I decided on a contribution 18 blurbs in length. Aaron was getting a handle on his ADD at the time; I reckon the short format was best for us both.
Looking back, the list feels like a confirmation of my own beliefs as much as it does a prescription for a little brother. There are gaping holes in both the list and my ability to consistently take my own medicine. But the notion of uncomplicated respect toward others is there. Whatever larger belief system or personal code you’ve carved into the sky above your life, I find notions to be helpful on the ground, in those mundane specks of daily interaction with other people.
You could sum it up like, “Be a net positive in the universe today,” or “Make others feel good.” Both fantastic things to live by and make posters of, but hard not to see as trite when being in the moment by Library Ringo, Slow Lane Jerk, Shout-Talk Dinner-Eater. So I took a chance and made a bossy list of specifics:
1) Recognize your achievements, accept compliments, drunkenly celebrate, fall asleep on the beach. But do wake up, do drink your coffee, stretch out the hangover and use the momentum to spring into your next exciting thing. Rewards for a job well done are nice. Sustained progression over time is better than nice.
2) Love hard. One of the best achievements in life is the capacity to give and receive love. Think about that. Not as easy as it sounds, especially for men. This doesn’t mean being reckless with your feelings, though your heart will take a beating now and again. Go out of your way to tell the people you care about how you feel. That goes for friends, family, lovers. Sorry for putting those three in the same sentence.
3) Quotes can be lovely when lifted from the right people. Take this one to heart:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. - Mark Twain
4) Don’t pick your nose in the car. Everyone can see you.
5) Do your best at whatever you do. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t devour new and random pursuits (You should totally do that, especially at the outset of your 20s.). But it does mean that once you commit to something important, be the guy who follows through. Talent exists, but exceptional people didn’t get that way by just having it. You hear a lot about hard work, grit, paying your dues. There’s a reason for that. Multiply your natural strengths with these things and you’ll be unstoppable.
6) Be good to your body. Eat well. Don’t tattoo areas you wouldn’t tan. Legs are OK.
7) Have a group of close dude friends. There are truths you’ll never learn about yourself until you spend quality time with people who aren’t attracted to you.
8) Listen. Listening isn’t sitting there looking like you’re interested. So many people do this because looking someone in the eye without saying anything is hard. Stop wondering what your listening face looks like or how many times to nod your head at a point well made. Stop waiting for your turn to talk, start hearing what the other person is saying, how it makes them feel, what it says about them and how they approach the world. Want to learn, even if you don’t feel like it. Don’t worry, you’ll have your chance on the mic, but give people the courtesy of your genuine attention first. Do that and they’ll repay you the gift of truly listening to what you have to say.
9) Be good at communicating. That can mean a lot of things, from persuading, to comforting, to clarifying, to supporting, etc. Whatever it is, say what you mean. It’s hard to do that if you don’t have a point. Some people are good at doing this with a lot of syllables, some get the job done with half the amount. Either is fine, so long as there’s intention. Otherwise, you’re left with chatter, which is boring at best, nervous mostly, and narcissistic at worst. Talk when you know what you’re talking about, be a sponge when you don’t.
10) Make mischief.
11) Extremity and moderation--there’s room in your life for both. When gauging things like other people’s opinions, be moderate. Strike a balance between stubborn judgmentalism and blind belief. You be you and only you, but don’t walk around seeking to embarrass those who don’t agree with you. At that point, you’ve stopped learning from others, young padawan, which means you are fucked. Lessons you’ll remember for the rest of your life can come from deep left field, so don’t be afraid to mix it up. Go to the symphony, listen to NPR, shoot guns in Nevada, watch French movies, make friends with someone who never went to college, march for gay rights, volunteer at a retirement home, learn how to dive in a third world country. When you do these things, know your audience and weigh the wisdom they have to offer against your knowledge of who they are.
12) When in doubt, keep your cool.
13) Know a lot, but don’t be a know be a know-it-all.
14) Be respectful to the women in your life, no matter what the nature or outcome of the relationship.
15) A mustache is off limits before 35, unless it’s part of a beard. Or a dare.
16) Sometimes you’ll fake it ‘til you make it, but don’t make it a way of life. If you must explain your work instead of letting it speak for itself, be a good and honest explainer. Nobody likes a poser.
17) Be kind to waiters, janitors, cab drivers--anyone whose job it is to make your life easier. Rude people look incredibly insecure to those they’re trying to impress.
18) Call your brother frequently. He loves you very much and needs someone to boss around.
Good citizenry is work, and I think it takes shape from an accumulation of tiny little righteous deeds, off-handed kindnesses, subtle encouragement. My hope for Aaron is that this stuff becomes reflexive.
Even if it doesn’t, and he has to work as much as I have to become a little more easygoing, I’ve done my part to combat the outrageous practice of nose picking in cars. Be still my grouchy heart--that is something.