Category Archives: Rules to Live By

Becoming the change I want to see

Keep Jumping Red, End Up Dead

Flickr photo courtesy of Kaputniq

My new cause is for bicyclists to stop at stop signs and red lights as if they were a motorist. In Massachusetts, and perhaps elsewhere, it’s now a law. If you go through a red light on your bicycle, you can be ticketed. I shouldn’t get self-righteous here because I’ve bicycled through many a red light in my time. But now, my feeling is that if bicyclists will stop at red lights, then car drivers might respond to them differently; rather than as pesky lane swervers, motorists might see bicycles as legitimate vehicles, almost like another car. And I think that would be helpful for all of us. I’ve got to believe that that state of affairs would help cut down on car-bike accidents. And I believe that bicyclists have to make the first move. Because they have the most to lose; car drivers are never hurt when their cars collide with a bicyclist. (Please let me know if I’m wrong on this one.) Bicyclists think car drivers should shift their attitude, but that’s not going to happen. Cars are in the majority, cars rule the road. Our society reveres cars and car transportation; bicycles and their riders are second-class citizens at best, rebels, outliers, socialists at worst.

This past weekend a group of bicyclists passed me as I was returning home from a ride. There were six of them; one of the guys was not wearing a helmet, which is just downright stupid. They moved ahead of me and then there was a red light ahead. I was trying to catch up with them, but they slowed for the light, checked that no cars were coming in the cross street, then sped through. I called out half heartedly for them to stop and then I waited for the light to change. And then, well, I just got pissed off. I don’t know what it is. Why couldn’t I just let them go on their way? I poured on the speed and caught up with them at the crest of the next hill and as I passed I looked over at the two leaders, Mr. No Helmet and his friend. “I really wish you guys would stop for red lights!” I yelled as I continued on, pedaling hard. I was sort of hoping that the next light would be red and I’d be stopped and they’d have to make their way around me in order to go through the light. But it was green.

I just kept going and then there was my left turn light ahead. It was red, though for the two travel lanes the light was green. I stopped, and I was standing there with my right foot on the pavement, when Mr. No Helmet whooshed by screaming at me, “The light is green!” as he flew down Beacon Street. His glee! He was so thrilled to be able to “get me back.” I was startled at first, then realized in that moment the folly of my ways. (Though of course I wish I had had the wherewithal to reply with some snarky remark like, “You may be stupid but at least you’re not colorblind!”)

I’m not going to get bicyclists to stop at red lights by yelling at them after they’ve gone through one. At least I could approach the discussion differently, perhaps a reserved, “Have you thought about stopping at red lights?” as I pedal along beside them. Maybe I’ll do that, or maybe I’ll just continue to stop at red lights and let the other bicyclists do what they will. Perhaps in time I’ll serve as a role model. Maybe some other bicyclist will think, “Hey, that’s a good idea.” As I slowly made my way home, it was then that I truly understood the oft-quoted line from Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” So for now I’ll stop screaming and just do.

But I do think of places like the Netherlands where drivers are trained to open their car doors with their right hands, reaching across their bodies, turning themselves to the left, forcing them to look back at the road, thus enabling them to see any bicyclists who might be coming their way. (I’ve been “doored” by a car driver. It is no fun. Knocked me out of commission for a couple of months and to this day I have a left shoulder problem associated with that accident.) Meaning that we could find ways to accelerate a melding of the minds between car drivers and bicyclists. Hopefully that day will come in my lifetime here in the U.S. of A.

Post script: was visiting some friends who were sitting out on their front porch last night. (It was a beautiful evening.) Got talking about bikes and red lights with this friend who has taken up biking later in life and who I often see Sunday mornings making his way home from the store where he’s just bought fresh bagels. He told me that because of my example he is now stopping at red lights and stop signs. Not always, and not consistently, but he’s doing it more and more. All I could say was, “My work here is done.”

Well, if not done, at least a beginning.

Can’t call? Don’t say hi.

I got an email from a friend the other day. He had seen a guy I know the day before. He wrote in his email: “‘So and so’ says hi.” I know we all do this, but when you think about the act of asking a third party to say hi to a friend of yours, well, it’s actually an insult. What you’re saying is, “I don’t have the time or inclination to call or write you myself, so I’m saying hi via this other person who knows nothing about our relationship.” Now, that’s sincere. Right? The Rule: Don’t ask a friend to say hi to another friend. Make the call yourself. Otherwise, keep your mouth shut.

Take a nap

Latest Rule to live by: Take a nap. Reminded of the importance of napping when reading NYTimes this morning, the What’s Offline piece in the Business section. Today’s theme is “How to be Smarter” and one of the ways to be smarter is to take a nap after lunch. According to this article,

Previous research has shown that sleep improves memory, and “now Olaf Lahl of the University of Düsseldorf in Germany and his colleagues have struck a blow for power napping.” Their work shows that falling asleep for as little as six minutes is enough to “significantly enhance memory.”

Of course in many ways we’re still in the Neanderthal mode in the workplace where if you’re not at your desk doing something you’re not being productive. This too shall pass. Apparently some companies, such as Nike and Deloitte Consulting, are encouraging their workers to take a brief nap.

There was an article in the New Yorker from June 2007 about the folks at Workman Publishing setting up a nap program at their offices after they published Take a Nap! Change Your Life by Sara Mednick. Businessweek magazine interviewed her back in November 2006 about the benefits of taking a nap in the middle of the day. She says the ideal nap is 20 minutes long and takes place after lunch, some time between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

I’m curious to find out if the Workman folks are still napping. Note to self: call them and find out if naps are still on the to-do list.

Be more than you seem

I’ve stolen this rule from Stephen Bayley, who I interviewed at about his book Life’s a Pitch, which he co-authored with Roger Mavity. Stephen’s half of the book has chapter titles such as “Seduction, or, how to get to yes”; “Lunch: theory and practice”; “How to be, er, confident”; and “Visual language, or, what does my tattoo say about me?” It is in this Visual language chapter that Bayley writes: “Those with an inclination to brag or exaggerate should know that Frederick the Great’s advice to his troops was: ‘Be more than you seem.'”

My feeling is that this notion goes beyond just not bragging about yourself. I really think it’s an important concept, but not clearly understood. It’s about being understated in looks and demeanor. Don’t let people know everything about you. Hold some stuff in reserve. It’s not about being secretive, it’s just about holding something back. There’s some power in keeping some stuff inside. I think of (guys, mostly) telling stories about some adventure and each guy is trying to one-up the guy before him. This is general man banter and sometimes interesting but mostly not. When you find yourself in this situation, try not telling your story, the one that outdoes all the others. (It’s hard.) It’s a good thing to do once in a while. Just hold back. The only who knows is you. And so you don’t have a topping story for that round. So what?

Take what’s offered

I was reminded of this rule recently when I interviewed Stephanie Palmer who has written a book titled Good in a Room. As part of my preparation for the talk, I downloaded a pdf of “Top Ten Tips” from her website. Number one on the list, and my rule of the day, is: Accept the water. As Stephanie says, “You should always accept hospitality—it warms up the room and gets things off to a good start.”

In her case, she’s talking about being in a meeting, trying to sell something to someone. But this applies to all aspects of life. I think this notion first occurred to me when I was hitchhiking around Europe when I was a younger person. As a hitchhiker, you have nothing. A pack on your back and the clothes you’re wearing. And the people who pick you up have a car and the money to buy gas and all that and they frequently wanted to share whatever else they had. They often offered you something to eat or drink and I quickly learned that turning down something offered put a slight chill on the situation. You know, it’s you and this other person in a small space. You want to do whatever you can to keep things “warm,” as Stephanie says.

I want that URL

So, here’s a rule. You shouldn’t be able to own a URL that has nothing to do with your business. Since I started writing these Rules to Live By a few days ago, I naturally looked into the URL, “” Here’s what you find at that address:


What the hell is this ISP in Wisconsin doing with this URL? Clearly they’re not blogging about Rules to Live By. They’re trying to sell their ISP services. Jeesh! And here I’ve gone and given them a plug. The bastids!

Okay, okay, I know this is a non-issue. It’s way too late. It’s a done deal. People buy URLs an re-sell them. I know this, I know this. It’s just that in that ideal perfect world that doesn’t exist, you wouldn’t be able to do this. So this rule doesn’t apply to the real world. Oh well. We can all dream, right?

Men don’t/can’t/won’t believe women?

Not sure what to call the rule here. This is about men not hearing women, or maybe it’s not believing women. This past Monday morning I bicycled the Boston Marathon route back and forth with a group of friends. We rode the 26 miles from Boston to Hopkinton, the starting point for the race. While standing around taking a short break before heading back into Boston, I overheard one of the bicyclists, a woman, telling a couple of guys that “mice don’t co-habit with rats.” Apparently one of the guys had discovered mice in his house and she was trying to look at the positive side. If you’ve got mice, you don’t have rats. Lesser of two evils and all that. These two guys didn’t believe her. I don’t know why. I came over and said, “mice don’t co-habit with rats” and the guys say, “oh” as in oh, I didn’t know that and thanks for telling me. They believed me. They know this woman better than they know me. And she then says, “why don’t guys ever believe women? I just told you the same thing and you didn’t believe me and then he [me] comes along and says the same thing and you believe him.” This woman is a doctor. She’s an athlete. She’s not crazy. There’s no reason for them not to believe her.

Now, this resonated with me because I’ve heard the same complaint from my wife about me. And it’s true. She has made some statements that I think are preposterous and I say, “come on, that can’t be true,” but then if I see that same thing written the next day in a newspaper, I believe it.

Is this just a couple of random cases of guys not believing women or is this more of a cultural issue? I’m curious. I’m also guilty. So I need to change something here.