My Rules

Over the past couple of years I’ve come up with some rules for how I want to live my life. If you want to know what kind of person I am, take a look at these:

Topher’s Rules

1. Don’t get caught.

This one often gets misunderstood. By “don’t get caught” I don’t mean that you should go around breaking laws and rules if you can get away with it. What I mean is that breaking the letter of the law but obeying the spirit of the law is acceptable, if you can get away with it. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you are likely to get into trouble.

For example, I speed pretty much any time I can. What I don’t do is speed when it is unsafe to do so, such as when it is raining or in heavy traffic. The purpose of speed limits is to get people to drive safely (not revenue generation!). If the road is dry and wide open, then driving 75 in a 70 isn’t unreasonable, because it isn’t unsafe. 

One of the lunchtime rules at my daughter’s school is that they aren’t allowed to share food, ostensibly to minimize the possibility of triggering food allergies, but by now third grade students know if they are allergic to something. On the rare occasions when I pack her a lunch, I always send her with too much of something, just so she has something to give away or trade. Part of the fun of life is getting things you don’t normally get, so having her break the rules to share an experience is something I encourage. (Normal Park teachers and staff: If you’re reading this, she is exceptional at not getting caught.  )

2. If you get caught, admit everything.

Too many people try to keep covering things up once they’ve been caught. The overwhelming majority of the time, if they’ve caught you on one thing, the odds are pretty good they are going to catch you on the rest of it. Come clean immediately, apologize, and move on.

3. Solving the problem is more important than blaming someone.

Too many people are more concerned with witch hunts than with finding solutions. Someone screwed up and now we have to fix it. Get on with it. The main reasons to find who to blame is either to punish them–which is rarely productive–or to make sure they don’t repeat the mistake. The latter is useful, but usually doesn’t take very long and it shouldn’t be the focus.

3a. Take responsibility, even if it isn’t your fault, if it gets the problem solved faster.

I worked for a company where upper management often looked for scapegoats. I managed a few people in a highly visible area of the organization. If someone in my department made a mistake, everyone knew about it. The only way I could maintain morale and keep my people working effectively was to be a barrier between them and upper management, so any time upper management discovered a problem, I took the blame. Sometimes it was completely obvious that I couldn’t have possibly directly caused the problem, but that wasn’t the point. I was the manager, so, ultimately, any mistake in my department was my mistake, from a certain point of view.

4. Back your friend’s play, once it is made, even if you disagree with it.

Loyalty is a difficult concept for many people, and it’s almost entirely lost in American business and American politics. The only thing that buys loyalty is loyalty, and there are few things more important to me than to be loyal to my friends. So if a friend makes a mistake, even a really stupid one, I’ll still support them, often publicly. In private, I may rather bluntly ask them “WTF?” in an attempt to keep things from getting worse, but in public I back their play.

5. Life isn’t fair, but try to be fair.

Life isn’t fair. I grew up in a lower middle class family in rural Wisconsin. My standard of living was orders of magnitude lower than Donald Trump’s kids, but it was also orders of magnitude better than a kid growing up in drought-stricken Ethiopia.

Most of American history is people striving for the American Dream: Work hard and you can make a good life for yourself and your family. Unfortunately, that’s becoming less possible today because we don’t have fairness. There isn’t equality of opportunity. Some public schools are great, but some really suck. Some neighborhoods are safe, some are dangerous. People and governments cannot make life fair, but we can help give people a chance to make better lives for themselves.

6. Don’t talk down to people. Especially kids.

This took me a really long time to figure out. I read constantly, so I have a fairly large vocabulary. Conversational word selection was a skill I just didn’t have. (I still have a problem with being too direct, and people thinking I’m giving an order instead of making a request.) More times than I care to recall I talked to someone like they were stupid. At best, this aggravates them, at worst, they stop listening completely.

Most adults talk down to children. They assume that because they aren’t as old and don’t have a full vocabulary that everything needs to be dumbed down. Kids are smarter than most people think. They can figure out most meanings from tone, and when they can’t, they can ask questions and learn something. If you don’t treat kids–and adults–with respect, they won’t act like they deserve respect.

Selfie with beard

I let Zari make some decisions. She’s decided the beard stays until spring.

7. Never complain about a rainy Monday.

If I were all-powerful, it would rain every Monday after a sunny and warm weekend. If you’re going to be stuck at work anyway, it might as well rain.

8. Talk to strangers.

Stranger danger may be the most exaggerated “threat” in America. The overwhelming majority of crimes against children are committed by someone known to the child or the child’s family. When a stranger does something to a child, it makes national news precisely because it is so rare.

I used to be an introvert who actively avoided talking to anyone. That’s boring. Now I talk to the people in line with me at the store, or the guy pumping gas at the next pump. When I take my daughter to the park, her standing order is to “Go talk to strangers.” One day last May I took her to Coolidge Park here in Chattanooga. The place was very crowded, with probably over a hundred kids playing in the fountains. Probably a third of the group were seniors from a local high school who happened to be predominantly African-American. These kids were having a water fight, so my daughter jumped into the middle of it, helping one faction fill their water containers and making the occasional sneak attack. A few times she ended up quite a distance from me and, unfortunately, other busy-bodies parents were worried for her on my behalf and tried to keep my daughter from having fun. They had worst-first thinking, assuming that the older kids would do something to hurt my daughter, when the reality was the exact opposite. They were treating her like a little sister, getting her involved and being extremely nice (one girl even gave her a necklace).

I could have had my daughter play by herself in the fountains that day, or I could let her have fun.

9. Spend money on experiences instead of stuff. (No one can steal your experiences.)

I’ve had four break-ins in the past three years. I’ve lived through earthquakes, hurricanes, a house fire, floods, tornadoes, blizzards, two divorces and the break-up of a long-term relationship, and the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. I’ve lost more property than many people will ever own. It bothered me for a long time, but it doesn’t now. Now if I get extra money, I spend it doing something different–my current “kick” is taking my daughter around the country to as many National Parks as possible. I take pictures and upload them to three different cloud drives, so I can’t lose them, but even if I did, I still have my memories, and that’s enough.

10. Most individuals are nice. Most groups aren’t.

I won’t go as far as Will Rogers, because I have met men I didn’t like, but I get along with almost everyone, regardless of our differences. The few people I do have problems with tend to be those who are extremely selfish, those who are willing to harm others to get ahead.

Groups, however, are very often ugly. Most groups exist to promote their own interests at the expense of others. AARP wants to improve the lives of seniors at the expense of young people. Political parties selfishly promote the causes of their members. Too often trade groups collude to informally inflate the prices of their goods and services.

It’s why I’m running as an independent. I don’t want to fall into the trap of supporting things just because they are in the best interests of my group. Everything in politics has a trade-off, but I want to work toward the greatest good for the greatest number.

11. People like people who are like them, so if you want someone to like you, exaggerate your similarities and understate your differences.

People are naturally more comfortable with people who look like them, talk like them, and act like them. People self-segregate; for example, just about every major city has a Chinatown. People are nicer to those who attend the same church as themselves, went to the same school they did, or listen to the same music.

This fact of life means that I’ve had to work to build relationships, because I don’t talk like I’m from Chattanooga: I have lived here thirteen years, but I still have my muddled accent from my years in Missouri, Wisconsin, and California. I don’t dress like most people: I am most comfortable in a T-shirt, cargo shorts (even in winter), and tennis shoes. Most of my social activities aren’t mainstream: My best friends come to my home for game night every Monday, I don’t go to bars, and I don’t attend church. I’m more likely to be walking about town with my daughter. So when I meet someone, I try to find the common bond. What makes them tick that I can relate to? Is he a Tennessee fan? My sister-in-law used to work in the athletic department there. Do they like going to Disney World? I used to live in Orlando, I can give some tips and tricks.

The only way I am going to succeed in this campaign and in Washington is by finding common ground. I’ve been doing that all my life.

12. If you are building a team, find people who are different from you and from each other.

Because of #11, most people build teams of people who are like them. My first ex-wife did a group project where each group ran a mock commuter airline. The organizational chart was President and three marketing executives.

From years of running role-playing games for my friends, I know that the most effective group is a diverse group. You don’t steal the dragon’s horde with a group of all fighters: You need the fighters, but you also need a healer, a wizard, a trap expert, and someone who can talk their way into or out of any situation.

If I get elected, I will assemble a diverse staff, because I’ll need a varied set of skills and experiences to succeed. I’m not sure there’s anyone else like me, but I don’t want to work with me. I want to work with people who have different ways of looking at the world, and I won’t get that by hiring a bunch of middle-aged white guys.

13. Shut up and listen.

“It is worth repeating at this point the theories that Ford had come up with, on his first encounter with human beings, to account for their peculiar habit of continually stating and restating the very very obvious, as in “It’s a nice day,” or “You’re very tall,” or “So this is it, we’re going to die.”

His first theory was that if human beings didn’t keep exercising their lips, their mouths probably shriveled up.

After a few months of observation he had come up with a second theory, which was this–“If human beings don’t keep exercising their lips, their brains start working.”

Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

14. If you look for a fight, you’ll find it.

This is probably my main motive for running for office. The Republicans and Democrats are looking to fight. The tone in our country is so confrontational that it sickens me. I hope that, perhaps, I can be the man in the middle, the voice of reason, who can get both sides to work together. Even if they can’t agree on some major issues, on other issues there is certainly common ground.


Every few months I come up with something new. I know some, if not most, of you will disagree with some of these, but they work for me. Hopefully they give you a better idea of what kind of person I am, or at least what kind of person I hope to be.

Thanks for reading!

Topher

 

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1 Comment

Filed under Ethics, Listening

One response to “My Rules

  1. Pingback: Identity and Priorities | Topher for Congress

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