25 Principles of Adult Behavior

By Jack J. Kelly


This week my daughter, a junior at a nice, highly-ranked high school, within an upscale suburb of New York, shared with me that she is planning, along with other concerned students, to stage a walk-out (Before you read further, this is NOT a political piece. Please read on without fear or worry about yet another article pointing fingers and blaming one party or another for all the evils inflicted upon the world).  While many of her  cohorts lean heavily to the left and are politically motivated, most of the kids are apolitical and simply scared. It’s a sad state of affairs when the topic of conversation around the dinner table now centers on mass school shootings instead of the usual gossip of romances, dates, break-ups, football games, and who got into a top Ivy League university.

Our kids are watching our political leaders in Washington squabble like middle schoolers, worry about nuclear war with North Korea or Russia, unrelenting international terrorist attacks, an opiod drug epidemic, adults who cannot carry on civil conversations without reverting to tribal party lines to yell at each other, and anxiety over how they can ever possibly afford to carry a mountain of student debt and also buy a home and live a life better than their parents.  I know all this because I eavesdrop on their conversations when I chauffeur the kids around.  Here’s a pro-tip from an experienced parent: always offer to drive your children and their friends everywhere. They forget you are a human, ignore you as if you are meshed into the car, and proceed to talk openly and honestly with each other not thinking that a dad would closely monitor or care what is going on in their lives.

With the backdrop of all the challenging geo-political events that are making everyone crazy, it made me think of a something written by John Perry Barlow.  Don’t feel bad if you can’t recognize the name.  John Perry Barlow, who passed away this month, was a uniquely, American character that you would read about in a classic novel, except he was a real person. Barlow was an old-school throwback to a different, bygone era. He was, at various times in his life, an American poet, essayist,  cattle rancher in Wyoming, Republican politician, cyber-libertarian, and a Fellow Emeritus at Harvard University’s Center for Internet and Society, championing  free speech on the Internet unfettered by government interference.  Oh, and in his spare time, Barlow was a lyricist for the Grateful Dead and wrote some of their best songs.  

When Barlow turned 30, he wrote the following 25 Principles of Adult Behavior. It was a road-map to hold himself to a certain standard and live his life in a meaningful way.


  1. Be patient. No matter what.
    2. Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, never blame. Say nothing behind another’s back you’d be unwilling to say, in exactly the same tone and language, to his face.
    3. Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.
    4. Expand your sense of the possible.
    5. Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.
    6. Expect no more of anyone than you yourself can deliver.
    7. Tolerate ambiguity.
    8. Laugh at yourself frequently.
    9. Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.
    10. Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.
    11. Give up blood sports.
    12. Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Do not endanger it frivolously. And never endanger the life of another.
    13. Never lie to anyone for any reason (Lies of omission are sometimes exempt).
    14. Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.
    15. Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.
    16. Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.
    17. Praise at least as often as you disparage.
    18. Never let your errors pass without admission.
    19. Become less suspicious of joy.
    20. Understand humility.
    21. Forgive.
    22. Foster dignity.
    23. Live memorably.
    24. Love yourself.
    25. Endure.

To Barlow the principles simply meant that,  “I don’t expect the perfect attainment of these principles. However, I post them as a standard for my conduct as an adult. Should any of my friends or colleagues catch me violating one of them, bust me.”

These principles apply to the workplace as well. When corporations are quick to relocate jobs, in an effort to save costs by firing older workers, management engages in all sorts of corporate politics. Co-workers back-stab each other to get ahead; reports of sexual harassment arise, and other unpleasant and disreputable actions. Perhaps, we should work on making work a better, more humane place.

Also, outside of the office and in the real world, maybe instead of all the arguments, name-calling, finger pointing, virtue signaling, hatred and animosity, we could subscribe to the tenants of a different time, and attempt to adhere to core values and treating ourselves and everyone else with dignity and respect.

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