Most of us, consciously or not, have some version of a life philosophy or motto, a piece of wisdom or advice that we hold close to us and dust off periodically to use at certain crossroads. Some mottos are borrowed, such as the Golden Rule: treat others as you would treat yourself or live each day as though it were your last. Don’t take no for an answer. Some are quite practical. My mother-in-law’s motto: “Why cook a chicken, when you can buy a cooked chicken?” My mom’s motto this week is “Don’t break your femur,” because…she just broke her femur. And she’s right. It’s a really inconvenient bone to break even if you don’t have a summer of trips planned and you’re not pushing 70.
My motto? Don’t be an asshole. The language is a bit glib and the idea not original, but I wholly believe in it. It reminds me to think before I say something stupid or act carelessly, whether I’m standing in line at the grocery store, enduring one more committee meeting, or driving in Center City. When a friend is talking through an issue she’s having with her husband and really just needs for me to sit quiet and listen to her instead of interrupting the second she pauses with unasked-for advice, “don’t be an asshole” reminds me that maybe advice isn’t what’s helpful right now. In fact, what’s most helpful is to go with what I know is right: to shut up and listen to my friend. “Don’t be an asshole” reminds me to try harder to treat people with respect and kindness, even if I’m not in the mood or haven’t had enough coffee yet. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we just checked ourselves once in a while and try to not be assholes to one another? I admit it, don’t always succeed at heeding the motto and sometimes slip up. It can take a lot of physical and mental control to keep my middle finger to myself when drivers fail to merge correctly on I-95, but I choose to believe that it’s worth it.