John Perry Barlow’s “Principles of Adult Behavior”

John Perry Barlow from Wikimedia CommonsJohn Perry Barlow is an activist, writer, former lyricist for the Grateful Dead and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He’s also an engaging Twitter-er who gets my attention with concise, insightful original tweets and great quotations.

In the last few days, he’s been tweeting a selection of “Principles of Adult Behavior” from a list he apparently first wrote up when he turned 30. In an article from 2001 about the perils of America’s relentless and destructive ‘pursuit of happiness,’ he writes,

But not until I turned 30 was it made obvious to me that my wariness of the pursuit of happiness might be a subtle form of treason. Like many of my generation, I hadn’t really expected to live to such an age. I really didn’t trust anyone over 30 – and remain reluctant to do so even now – but since I was about to be one, I figured I ought to at least take a stab at graceful adulthood. […] So I spent the night before my 30th Birthday composing a list of advisories to myself that I called “Principles of Adult Behavior.”

Having turned 40 myself last year, graceful adulthood is certainly on my mind (maybe more so now than when I was 30), and I find Barlow’s principles quite excellent so far (even if he himself calls them “blandly inarguable, the sort of platitudes Polonius liked to lay on Hamlet”). Navigating my way through the frequently difficult and dysfunctional world of work, these seem like good occasional reminders for being mindful, present and staying on track with good behaviour that doesn’t compromise me or others.

Adult Principle #1: Be patient. No matter what.

Adult Principle #2: Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn’t say to him.

Adult Principle #3: Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.

Adult Principle #4: Expand your sense of the possible.

Adult Principle #5: Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.

Adult Principle #6: Don’t ask more of others than you can deliver yourself.

Adult Principle #7: Tolerate ambiguity.

Adult Principle #8: Laugh at yourself frequently.

Adult Principle #9: Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.

Adult Principle #10: Try not to forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.

Adult principle #11: Give up blood sports.

Adult principle #12: Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Do not endanger it frivolously. And never endanger the life of another.

Adult principle #13: Never lie to anyone for any reason.

Adult principle #14: Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.

Adult principle #15: Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.

Adult principle #16: Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.

Adult principle #17: Praise at least as often as you disparage.

Adult principle #18: Never let your errors pass without admission.

Adult principle #19: Become less suspicious of joy.

Adult principle #20: Understand humility.

Adult principle #21: Forgive.

Adult principle #22: Foster dignity.

Adult principle #23: Live memorably.

Adult principle #24: Love yourself.

Adult principle #25: Endure.

(More back story and discussion here.)

4 thoughts on “John Perry Barlow’s “Principles of Adult Behavior””

  1. A commentary on this most excellent list, to help me incorporate digestible-sized bits from what could easily seem overwhelming:

    #1) This points to the need to learn to distinguish patience from tolerance, a not-so-easy balance; especially important for those of us – like myself- who are often tolerant to a fault, too accommodating, prone to say yes when we want/need to say no and liable to give too much up/away in a situation that portends conflict.


  2. These are great, save for #15. “Avoid the pursuit of pleasure.” Personally, I think it should be, “Avoid the pursuit of pleasure.”The Dalai Lama differentiates between pursuing “pleasure” (often driven by hedonism) and “happiness”. The former being short-term and fleeting and the latter being inherently rewarding and enduring. My guess is that Barlow is referring to more to the unrewarding pursuit of pleasure rather than happiness. Many would argue that “defining one’s mission (what some might call one’s passion in life) and pursuing that” directly leads to happiness.

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