Hello Class of 2015! When I was your age, I got really sick of advice. I also didn’t like something I’d heard: “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Really? Am I supposed to read every law on the books? How am I supposed to know? I just wanted a manual, a very brief guide that would tell me what to do and what not to do. Sure, I planned to break the rules, but I wanted them all in one easy, accessible place. What today you might call a tumblr page, or just a good blog post.

You might think that if you googled “dos and don’ts of life” you’d get just such a guide, but as I write this, you really don’t: instead it’s ten lines on how to save money, or how to manage your pregnancy, or how to talk to someone with cancer. All laudable, none being a Guide to Life. What about a list of quotes from the Dalai Lama or another revered figure? Sure, not bad. And nowhere near comprehensive.

Until now. Here’s my gift to you, Class of 2015: a pamphlet-size Guide to Life. From now on, you can just think to yourself “oh! Rule #74” when useful. As my hero Henry Clay said to the Senate, forestalling Civil War with one of his dying breaths: “These are my sentiments. Make the most of them.”


  1. Don’t kill
  2. Don’t rape
  3. Don’t hurt people except in extreme cases of self-defense (this rule could have covered rules 1 and 2, but those are worth repeating)
  4. Don’t lie
  5. Don’t cheat
  6. Don’t steal
  7. Don’t lend anything you can’t lose
  8. Don’t borrow anything without committing to a return date (and then honor that)
  9. Don’t judge yourself or others by material possessions
  10. Don’t be mean or cruel; don’t belittle people

11. Don’t throw stones from glass houses (don’t be hypocritical)

12. Don’t be afraid, or if you are afraid, don’t let fear control your actions

13. Don’t waste time on jealousy, if you can avoid it

14. Don’t worry, if you can think of something else to think about

15. Don’t disappoint your friends

16. Don’t be late; if lateness is unavoidable, call or ping

17. Don’t expect anyone else to support you

18. Don’t lose your sense of humor

19. Don’t offer or put up with abusive or reckless behavior

20. Don’t ignore the DMV Manual

21. Beyond the DMV Manual, Don’t ever make another driver brake unexpectedly (this rule also applies to pedestrians)

22. Don’t be judgey about alcohol/drug use until the other person hurts others/themselves

23. Don’t forget to pay taxes

24. Don’t be naked in public

25. Don’t take a picture of someone without their permission (or their parents’ permission, if appropriate)

26. Don’t stare at a person

27. Don’t eavesdrop

28. Don’t play loud music or make other kinds of ongoing noises in a way that’s bothering someone

29. Don’t use your phone/voice in church, at dinner, or at a movie except where clearly authorized

30. Don’t raise your voice without a really, really good reason

31. Don’t chew loudly; don’t chew food at the same time as anything else (e.g. talking, walking)

32. Don’t insult people behind their back; to their face is better (if you must)

33. Don’t interrupt people, unless you have a great reason

34. Don’t be rude or impolite if you can avoid it

35. Don’t just stop suddenly when you’re walking in public; be aware of others

36. Don’t push a friend – physically or emotionally – if s/he’s not into it

37. Don’t assume a person who is nice to you is interested in dating you

38. Don’t assume anything, if you can avoid it

39. Don’t offer unsolicited advice (we assume you chose to read this list)

40. Don’t say “I know how you feel” when that’s really not true

41. Don’t dismiss people being nice to you; try to be nice back, even just for a moment

42. Don’t whine, generally

43. Don’t gossip, generally

44. Don’t use profanity at all times; be aware of context

45. Don’t dress like you have no idea how to dress; be aware of context

46. Don’t take the final item of some shared bounty (usually food) without checking first with others

47. Don’t enter into communal arrangements naively

48. Don’t trash the environment, as much as is reasonably possible

49. Don’t keep talking to someone who probably isn’t listening

50. Don’t be burdened by regret, if you can help it


51. Do treat others as you would wish to be treated

52. Do respect everyone’s personal space, property, money

53. Do solve problems in a way that doesn’t make a problem for someone else

54. Do clean up your messes

55. Do keep your word; if you say you’re going to do something, do it

56. Do trust and love your life partner above others

57. Do trust and love your immediate family as much as you can

58. Do remember that giving generously typically makes you feel good

59. Do remember that everyone isn’t out to get you; most of them don’t care, and are as insecure as most of the others

60. Do accept that being weird is fine, but also accept that some people won’t accept it

61. Do plan ahead, from looking where you’re going (lest someone say “why don’t you look where you’re going?”) to home and life insurance

62. Do respect other cultures, if possible to the point of cooking their dishes, learning their languages

63. Do treat domestic animals as friends unless told otherwise

64. Do treat each day, each moment, as a gift

65. Do stay hydrated

66. Do travel

67. Do eat conscientiously

68. Do exercise at least a little once a day

69. Do respect faith and the faithful (religion, sports, other groupthinks)

70. Do accept that you are at least slightly racist, and racism is bad

71. Do try to behave without prejudice

72. Do try not to hold grudges; hurts both people

73. Do try to tell people you love how you feel about them, especially if you may not see them again for a while

74. Do try for the serenity to accept what you cannot change, the courage to change what you can, and the wisdom to know the difference

75. Do try to plant things and/or tend a garden

76. Do try new things as often as you can stand it

77. Do try to treat every person the same way

78. Do remember: sexual preference isn’t a choice, but gender is

79. Do cut slack to people with a loved one who is nearly or newly dead

80. Do respond to invitations

81. Do pay attention to the news, current national and world affairs

82. Do tip anyone who performs a service well

83. Do dance like no one’s watching, sing like no one’s listening

84. Do make friends outside your age group

85. Do respect your elders

86. Do listen, as opposed to waiting for your turn to talk

87. Do look into people’s eyes

88. Do ask people open-ended questions in friendly situations

89. Do use “I feel” statements if you seem to be disagreeing with someone

90. Do be positive; if you’re being critical of a person, focus on the future (e.g. “going forward…”)

91. Do build relationships with your neighbors

92. Do approach learning as a positive, and being paid to learn as even more positive

93. Do brush and floss daily

94. Do remember enough math to be financially independent

95. Do see suffering as a chance to nurture patience and tolerance, as the Dalai Lama said

96. Do wear sunscreen, like the song said

97. Do accept that all truth is a paradox, like Anne Lamott said

98. Do remember that there’s a lot you don’t know

99. Do try to know the rules (to anything) before breaking them

100. Do, if you break any of these rules with anyone, apologize

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