When I was about ten years old, I, in my youthful hubris, decided to write a book on “Rules for Living,” telling people how to best improve their lives. Fortunately, it stopped after only two rules, which I still remember:
1. When you run a bath, put the cold water on first and then the hot. Otherwise you might burn yourself.
2. When you button your shirt, start at the bottom. That way you won’t wind up with buttons in the wrong holes.
About ten years later, having a bit more experience of life, I came up with two more “rules”—which were really observations:
1. Everyone thinks that “they’re a little bit nuts”—in a good way.
2. Nobody thinks that they’re a complete jerk, as people with such a self-image could not live with themselves. But since some people are complete jerks, that means that lots of people don’t have an accurate self-image.
Well, take that for the “wisdom” of a twenty year old.
Driving back from the grocery store last weekend, I suddenly remembered my dumb “rules for life” book, which I hadn’t thought of in at least two decades. And immediately a new “rule” struck me, something that I’d been subconsciously chewing on for a while:
A large number of the people who call themselves “geeks” and “nerds” don’t use the term in a winsome, self-deprecating way. Rather, they use it to imply that “I’m smarter than you are.”
Let me hasten to add that I don’t think everyone who calls themselves geeks or nerds are intellectually arrogant. Just some of them—but not an insignificant number. When I was young, people who fit the “geek” stereotype of somebody interested in things scientific, and also socially inept, would rarely apply these terms to themselves. “Geek” and “nerd” were derogatory terms applied to you by others. But increasingly I see them used as self-branding signs of intellectual superiority. And when people apply these terms to themselves, the words grate on me, precisely as the word “brights”—meaning “atheists”—grates on me.
Agree or disagree, but add, if you will, your own “rules for life”. Oh, I just thought of one more:
If two friends tell you the same thing about yourself, it’s probably true.
p.s. It’s still a good idea to button your shirt from the bottom up.