Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from the mountain, broke the tablets, went back up for the second draft. I just went to the dentist.
Any how-to list carved in stone 3000 years ago, proclaimed by the vengeful god of a desert tribe should be subject to critique. Times have changed a bit, and interpretations differ. Does “Don’t kill” refer to one’s own tribe or to cities that get in the way? Can we carve out exceptions?
Most significant, perhaps: Are these actually the deepest principles by which anyone lives? What about “Thou shalt make big bucks” or “Thou shalt be Number One” or “Thou shalt love thy neighbor if convenient”?
So, after three hours in the dentist’s chair, I started to try listing ten commandments by which I actually aspire to live—broader principles, hopefully, than “Floss better,” though that might be a start. I might call them a less coercive “Ten Suggestions,’ but in these blaring environs, they need a bit more oomph.
I. Stay alive.
II. Avoid pain.
III. Accept pleasure.
IV. Be kind.
V. Speak true.
VI. Fill Needs.
X. Say thanks.
And for sake of brevity, I offer these Talmudic elucidations:
I. Stay alive. That’s pretty basic, applicable even to roaches. Extreme pain, saving your child, love of country? Make your own exceptions: I’m not God. Just remember all the people—mom, teachers, spouses—who’ve worked hard to keep your sorry ass alive. And granted: we all violate this one eventually.
II. Avoid pain. Hard to think about any of the others if you’re screaming. Do what you can, look both directions, don’t smoke, do floss.
III. Accept pleasure. That doesn’t mean “Swipe it” or “Grab it.” Just accept the banquet when offered.
IV. Be kind. Very hard when filled with anger or pain. Try it with bunnies and work your way up the scale.
V. Speak true. Not only telling your mom who painted the neighbor’s dog, but a couple of other things. For every word you use (more generalized than “fireplug”), e.g. “love,” “freedom” “belief,” etc., know what it means. And don’t make promises retroactively into lies.
VI. Fill needs. A doctor fills needs. A novelist fills needs. A garbage collector fills needs. A barista fills needs. It makes a difference if their boss, their psyche, the way they frame their lives allow them to feel they’re doing a service.
VII. Collaborate. If a squad of Marines can do it, so can we in our own endeavors, including marriage. “Survival of the fittest,” in the Darwinian sense, means the fittest family, fittest village, fittest tribe, not the fittest Viking berserker.
VIII. Learn. For all kinds of reasons. Stop only when dead.
IX. Think. I’ve left out all reference to spiritual life—love God, seek Nirvana, honor Thor, dig Infinity, that stuff. If “Learn” and “Think” lead you to one of these, you’re blest. Without those commandments, you’re a bloody fool.
X. Say thanks. Out of politeness, for a start. And for the full taste of what you’re receiving from this gift of life.