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i called my friend matthew. we needed to talk. as i began he started eating something, something that sounded like a mixture of apples, cheetos and ice. i kept pausing at the height of his chewing. picking up on this, matthew stopped his masticating long enough to say:

sorry. i was just on an hour long call with these morons from work and was starving.

well that kinda sucks.

what, the call?

no. that they get quiet, respectful you and i get you eating-gravel.

but you know me.

exactly. so why do i get the crappy-version and people you don't even like get the pleasant, attentive version.

you do get the worst of me but you also get the BEST of me. they don't get that.

that single sentence re-framed a life-long angst i've been carrying around. i've always been struck how family and friends will mal-treat each other in anger or fatigue or just basic moodiness in ways they would never treat others, in some cases complete strangers. this behavior, and its global acceptance, has always bewildered me. i have many times told my family that i don't subscribe to that thinking and that they can't dump on me just because we're related and if anything they should treat me better because we are family. i've been so reactive and irrational about this over the years it is near impossible that i haven't scarred my children over it.

the above exchange with matthew fueled that evening's dinner question. i re-told the entire experience above but only gave them the first part of matthew's response "you do get the worst of me BUT ..." and asked my family to complete the sentence.

i've talked about our dinner question ritual before and how they have proven to be great tools to really get to the marrow of what marty and i are trying to teach our children, whether decidedly or accidentally. the biggest quality about the practice's success is that it is a calm, stakes-free environment where you get to leverage the cool-headed insights and perspectives of the whole family.

not all of the questions are this hefty. fact is, many are silly or random. but having established the practice you can always slip a juicy morsel into the deck when you come upon one.

not being one who likes hoping to bump into success (anymore at least), i prioritized my list of things i would like to teach my children. this idea came from an interview i heard with emma thompson almost thirty years ago where she was asked if she could teach her children only one thing, what would it be. i remember it not so much for the question but her answer which said, from memory, "this will sound like a horribly british response but i would say manners. i've seen so many people lose opportunities and jobs even, because they had poor manners. i never wanted my children to miss out on anything for something as simple as manners." that is not a word-for-word transcription but is close. after that i started thinking of what my list might be.

if i could only teach my children three life values, they would be:

always be respectful

i've been shocked at how powerful and rare basic respect can be. my early career was entriely made by two moments of respect i showed to people i didn't really need to show anything to. those two tiny, pedestrian acts completely changed the trajectory of my professional opportunities. because of the unexpected impact they had on my life, i can recall the moments with vivid clarity even to this day. the moments themselves were trivially insignificant but their influence on my life make them some of the most pivotal professional minutes i ever put in.

this belief is in part why i have always bristled at families and friends getting short and salty with each other.

i also apply this tenet to our bodies and health. if we won the lottery and were gifted a healthy and functional body, not properly caring for it is immensely disrespectful to people who didn't win that lottery of health as we can never conceive what they would do, trade, give to have what we have through no effort on our part (on being born healthy).

avoid greed

i've seen greed derail careers. i've seen it ravage marriages. i've seen it end relationships. and most scarily i've seen it appear out of nowhere, completely clouding the judgement of what had previously been the most normal and rationale soul.

a youthful form of this deals in fairness--he got more than me, why does she get one and i don't. teaching children that life is less about what your neighbor has and more about what you, yourself, personally need is a hard bit of medicine to understand and subsequently swallow. mostly because truly knowing the difference between what you "need" and what you "want" is a slippery piece of knowledge in a society as privileged and credit-driven as ours.

be intentional

Without a goal, you can't score.

- Casey Neistat -

for me, casey's short and clever quip kinda says it all.

if i had to add a fourth to the list it would be 'how to change a car tire'. it might seem like it doesn't fit with the rest but i think there's a lot more in the folds of learning how to change a tire than just the simple mechanics of changing a tire.

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thanks to m. vance for instigating and capturing the above family photo for us.




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