Kurt Vonnegut once wrote: I’ve often thought there ought to be a manual to hand to little kids, telling them what kind of planet they’re on, why they don’t fall off it, how much time they’ve probably got here, how to avoid poison ivy, and so on. I tried to write one once. It was called Welcome to Earth. But I got stuck on explaining why we don’t fall off the planet. Gravity is just a word. It doesn’t explain anything. If I could get past gravity, I’d tell them how we reproduce, how long we’ve been here, apparently, and a little bit about evolution.

Vonnegut was a far greater writer then I will ever be.  Still, here’s my first stab at a guide to being a human (gravity will be covered in Part 2):

1. You’ll be wrong a lot, so don’t be an asshole when you’re right (or when you think you’re right, cause you might be wrong).

When you’re young, you think you have things figured out: there definitely is/is not a God, the government is not corrupt/completely corrupt, true love exists/is a fairy tale.  But the world is a series of grey’s, and more often than not, you aren’t even aware of all the grey’s.  You can’t even see the whole picture (or, in the words of a war criminal, “There are things we do not know we don’t know”).  So even though you think you’re absolutely sure about something, it’s best to approach the situation humbly, because you might be wrong.  And there are few things worse than being proven wrong after you arrogantly assumed you were right.  But you probably shouldn’t be arrogant at all because…

2. “We need to treat everyone as if they’re us living a different life.  If you lived my life, you would be me. If I lived your life, I would be you. I would have your experiences and your genes. Treating others as you would like them to treat you is too abstract. I’m saying treat them as if they ‘were’ you. If we really are one, then I am you and you are me.” – Joe Rogan.

The absolute best role model for Bro’s everywhere, Joe Rogan, summed it up best.  And the reasoning for this can be approached from a few different angles.  Maybe you believe that there’s one great consciousness, and individual consciousness is nothing but that one great consciousness split off into billions of humans, like how sight is split across the hundred eyes on a fly.  So, when you blind an eye, you’re really just losing your own sight.  (“If you’re an asshole to me, you’re also being an asshole.”)

Or perhaps you’ve stumbled across the enlightening lessons of Sonder: the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.  It feels like you’re the main character in a story, perhaps that your wants and needs are all that matter in the world, but the entirety of your personal existence is replicated, albeit differently but with no less depth, in every person you see.  Imagine that.  If the world behind our eyes were psychedelic thought bubbles of thoughts and feelings and memories and personality traits, and every one had them, floating above their heads.

To be unkind is to be a child; it is to cry out in the middle of a grocery story that you and you alone deserve candy.  It is to adhere to the immature idea that you matter the most, above everyone.  But people exist in internal and external lives with equivalent complexity–to them, you’re just a background player.  Respect that.

Or maybe you treat everyone as if they’re you living a different life because you want to be treated well.  And you—however distantly—respect and follow Kant’s categorical imperative (or the Bible’s golden rule).  You treat others kindly because you want to be treated that way.  That’s nice.  Isn’t that nice?  Let’s all be nice to each other, alright?  Whatever your reasoning, the world is just better that way.

3. “A man gotta have a code.” – Omar Little.

This is not the same thing as having a set of beliefs—which is actually pretty detrimental.  As Chris Rock put it, “I just think it’s better to have ideas. I mean, you can change an idea, changing a belief is trickier. People die for it, people kill for it.”

Having a code means that your word has value.  When you say you’ll do something, you do it.  When you say you’ll be somewhere, you’re there.  People respect this, and you’ll respect yourself.  But also it allows you to build relationships.  People will clearly understand that when you say something, you mean it.  This will prove invaluable when a friend dates an asshole/bitch, and you have to break it kindly (“Look, I know she’s amazing in bed but she voted for Romney”).

Having a code also allows you to build yourself.  One of the reasons that your early twenties seem so wispy, and your character so ill defined, is that you don’t have a code—you’re haven’t learned enough to know how to treat people or how much of what you say and do actually matters to them.  You’re really just making it up as you go along, which is fine—it’s the point of your twenties.  But at a certain point you have learned enough, and to pretend that you haven’t is to be immature, and kind of a dick.

4. Wear a condom.

Always.  Cause sex is fun and kissing and rolling around naked in bed with someone is one of the greatest pleasures allowed to us in this life.  But unwanted pregnancies, chlamydia, and herpes are not.  Condom’s are just a really easy way to avoid a lot of horrible situations.

5. A fundamental goal in life should be to grow and evolve as a person.

Be open and free to change your mind.  You are not your beliefs.  You are not the ideas you have on the world.  So when better information comes along, you should easily and without loyalty change your mind.

Look: you are not a Christian, nor an atheist.  Currently, you think that God/No God is the best explanation of the world.  But who knows?  Maybe you’re just ape who can see at most 100 yards in any direction, and popped into existence at some random point in time and culture—which greatly determines your definitions of God/No God.  The point being, however subjective your view of the world, even if you’ve believed in God/No God for many years, you can still change your mind. And you’re still you.  It’s just an idea, an idea floating around behind your eyes, and the idea is separate from the essence of you.  You don’t lose anything by changing your mind.  But you do gain wisdom and perspective, and those are much more important then any capital T truth.

Which leads into another one…

6. Shamelessly steal other people’s ideas about life.

You aren’t going to think of every good idea.  And you’re not going to think up the best thing to do in every situation, or most, or even half of the difficult situations in your life.  We all know this, which is why we talk to friends and family about our problems, for their input.  Well, steal their ideas.  Steal any good idea you come across like you found a twenty on the side walk.  Then, chuck your old stupid idea in the trash.  Who cares if you thought it up?  You have a better idea now!

See, one point in life isn’t thinking up the best thing to do, although when you can do this, that’s awesome.  One point is just choosing the best option.  And if that means Jeremy, your idiot stoner friend, hits gold every once in a while about how to talk to your dying grandmother, well, take his fucking idea!

Personally, the second I find a better idea, I immediately take it, cause the second I do, I’m immediately more right then I was before.  Think about that!  I was going to talk to my dying grandmother about how bad the ending of LOST was, but then Jeremy recommended I talk to her about her life growing up, her friends and hobbies.  Goddamn Jeremy, that’s a good idea—now pass the fucking joint already!

7. Call your mom.

She misses you.

8. Do certain drugs.

To be clear, DO NOT DO: crack, heroin, pcp, bath salts, cocaine or anything like that.  But you should try, at some point in your life, weed, mushrooms and LSD.  These are substances that American culture has hastily and incorrectly grouped in with actual drugs.  While not quite medicine, these 3 substances have medicinal effects which are incredibly beneficial to one’s growth as a human being, IF you take them under the right conditions.

If you take these medicines at a party, or in hopes of getting “fucked up,” well, you probably won’t get any of these introspective benefits.  But if you smoke a J while listening to your favorite record, or while talking to a lover, then you’ll likely gain deep insights into life and who your lover is.  You’ll connect with yourself and with another, in a way that I’m not sure is entirely possible sober.

On the other hand, you need to be much more careful with fungus and LSD.  Respect them.  You don’t want to have a horrible experience that stretches on for hours (but feels like an eternity on the mountain of regret).   A good way to take mushrooms or LSD is in nature, in a park or campsite, with people you’re completely comfortable with.  State your intentions clearly before the trip, something like:

“Hey Max, you’re a very good friend, and I’m really happy to have you in my life.”

“Hey Amber, I deeply care about you, and I truly value the connection we have and the intimacy that we share.”

Something like that.  While tripping, if you want to do something, just do it.  If you come to a fork in the woods, and your gut tells you to go left, and your friend says, “Which way do you wanna go?” and you say nothing, and he starts walking right, you’re gonna be walking right thinking about why you didn’t say anything about going left and wondering what magical things were left and how you should have just said it but you didn’t you always do things like this and now there’s no going back or is there no we’ve come too far——

Just say what you think and feel so you can continue growing and continue the trip.  Freely pick up any idea that comes along.  Look at yourself and the things you’ve done without judgement, but honestly.  Look at nature.  Look at your hands.  Look at your friend.  Look at the sky.  Isn’t existence beautiful?  And you are so, so deeply loved by it all.


Further reading: Drugs and the Meaning of Life by Sam Harris.

Donovan James is a writer, musician, cat enthusiast and psychonaut. He is still an idealist, despite a ravaging cynicism. He believes that the money and effort allocated to war and fear should be used to feed, shelter, and educate the poor, no human being excluded. His work has appeared in Commonline Journal, and Monkey With A Hat On theater productions. His book of poetry, Saudade, can be purchased here.


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