My Guiding Principles & Pro Tips

For me, connecting personally, playfully, and meaningfully is what makes life worth living, and was a major contributor to the formation of my science-art-education studio TechnoFrolics.

I believe the world is in great need of play, connection, and community. As but one example, the level of addiction (at least in the USA) has reached epic proportions, is growing at an alarming rate, and, as the author Johann Hari notes, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, the opposite of addiction is connection.

As a secular humanist, below I offer some thoughts and reflections that (on a good day anyway...) function as my guiding principles. Perhaps you will find some of them resonate with you as well.

Guiding Principles

  1. Connectedness and mutual understanding are their own rewards.
  2. The value of playfulness and humor cannot be overstated; this is just as true during difficult times as any other — perhaps more so.
  3. Acknowledging and appreciating the other is paramount.
  4. A thousand tiny disappointments eventually take a toll; every interaction matters.
  5. Try, like a child (or Buddhist monk), to be open, inquisitive, and unafraid.
  6. Smile at strangers as you would if they were a newborn baby — adults need smiles too.
  7. Being joyful and connected is more important than being "proper"; be respectful, but do not become an island of subdued propriety.
  8. Don't take yourself, or the opinion of others, more seriously than is helpful.
  9. It is easier to be unguarded and playful with the very young and the very old than those in the middle; golden retrievers offer guidance for how to be joyous and playful with all.
  10. There is no context in which kindness, beauty, and art do not matter.
  11. Feelings matter — indeed perhaps they are the only things that do; don't let concerns about practical issues obscure or overwhelm that truth.
  12. Striving to understand, articulate, and share the nuances and origins of one's own internal world, and that of others, is a pursuit both worthy and connective. Never let others, or the surrounding culture, convince you otherwise.
  13. There is much to be said for living your life in part as performance art — never so much as to prevent connection with others, but enough to entwinkle each day.
  14. Separate your world into categories only to the extent that it is useful for your understanding and calm; do not segregate so much as to prevent valuable connections between people and between ideas.
  15. Be sensitive to the privacy and desires of others, but not so (over) sensitive as to needlessly isolate yourself; remember that good connections benefit you and the other.
  16. The interchange “How are you?”, “I’m fine, how are you?", “Fine” rarely helps either party; be real.
  17. Don't let the fact that you don't know someone prevent meaningful connection; everyone's a stranger until they're not.
  18. Communication is almost always better than the lack of it, even — perhaps especially — when it feels scary.
  19. If you have two paths to choose between:
    • Don’t avoid one simply because it is a little scary; don’t choose one simply because it is comfortable and predictable.
    • All other things being equal, select the one that expands your world, rather than keeping its size constant or shrinking it.
  20. Try not to let your trepidations make you overly cautious: If there is a chance reaching out will generate a moment of awkwardness, and a chance it will create a smile, err on the side of reaching out; a life filled with successes and failures is much preferred to a life with neither.
  21. Being vulnerable is almost always better than being defended, particularly when it allows another to feel safer.
  22. Feeling embarrassed and silly is not so bad, particularly if it is in consequence of doing something that matters to you.
  23. What you choose to say is just as important as whether what you say is true. Context, intent, and impact are rarely, if ever, small matters.
  24. If you feel regretful, don't hesitate to apologize; saying you are sorry is not the same thing as saying you were wrong — you can be sorry and not wrong, and wrong and not sorry.
  25. Love matters, and takes many forms.
  26. Take responsibility for your feelings because they are, after all, yours.
  27. Just because one is feeling distress does not necessarily mean someone (another, or you yourself) is "to blame"; life is way more complex than that.
  28. Asking questions is almost always a good thing. You don't have to try to figure everything out on your own, and in relationship to others, cannot.
  29. Try to leave a trail of sparkles in your wake. It is a worthy effort, and forgives occasionally tracking in a little mud.
  30. It is much more likely the other person doesn’t understand, or doesn't know, than that they are of ill intent. It is the rare person who is malicious; it is the frequent person who is different, overwhelmed, or distracted.
  31. Most things of value require work, usually requiring a greater intensity, and extending over a longer period of time, than one can possibly imagine at the outset.
  32. Listening deeply is a gift to both the listener and listenee.
  33. Empathy, compassion, and forgiveness are soothing, rejuvenative, and healing; don't forget to give them to yourself in equal measure as you give them to others.
  34. Mistakes are inevitable. Beating yourself up over them is less useful, and a great deal less pleasant, than exploring what they might have to teach.
  35. If you feel strongly about something or someone, you should probably pay attention — even if you are not immediately clear what to do with the feeling.
  36. Sharing failures — particularly spectacular, embarrassing ones — can be transformative, creating fun stories and meaningful connections.
  37. A fellow kinetic artist said during a talk that one of the reasons he built his public artworks was so that strangers could smile at one another without feeling self-conscious. I love him for that.

Pro Tips

  1. When at a social gathering, a highly recommended conversation starter is "What question would you like to be asked?" It provides the listener an opportunity to think deeply about who they are and what they truly care about, and their answer can offer much interesting information. At its best, it creates a mutually-welcome real connection amidst a sea of superficiality.
  2. Evaluate someone not on what they believe but on how they came to believe it. By doing this you naturally begin to understand them, they to better understand themselves, and you to better understand yourself. This approach has the potential to bridge divides that may, if one focuses only on the beliefs themselves, be near-insurmountable.
    The world is extraordinarily complex and people's life experiences profoundly diverse, and where even common, shared elements may be given dramatically different intellectual weight and emotional importance. Our society is in desperate need of kind, respectful communication; I don't know about you, but I do not want to live in a veritable war zone - even if that war zone is "just" political.