How should we behave? John Perry Barlow had some suggestions

Watching the nightly news can be a depressing experience. We are presented with story after story which are, at their hearts, all about how badly people behave towards one another.

For this reason, an obituary of John Perry Barlow caught my eye a couple of weeks ago. He was a lyricist for the Grateful Dead, a rancher, a writer and an internet activist, even writing A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace in 1996.

However, the most interesting piece of his work which I read was a list he had written on the eve of his thirtieth birthday: a set of principles by which he wanted to live his life. On his sixtieth birthday, he reflected on this list in an email to friends, saying,

‘Now, thirty years later, I can claim some mixed success. Where I’ve failed, I’m still working on it. I give these to you so that you can provide me with encouragement in becoming the person I want to be. And maybe, though they are very personally targeted, they may even be of some little guidance to you.


1.  Be patient. No matter what.

2.  Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, never blame. Say nothing behind another’s back you’d be unwilling to say, in exactly the same tone and language, to his face.

3.  Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.

4.  Expand your sense of the possible.

5.  Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.

6.  Expect no more of anyone than you yourself can deliver.

7.  Tolerate ambiguity.

8.  Laugh at yourself frequently.

9. Concern yourself with what is right rather than whom is right.

10.  Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.

11.  Give up blood sports.

12.  Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Do not endanger it frivolously. And never endanger the life of another.

13.  Never lie to anyone for any reason.

14.  Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.

15.  Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.

16.  Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.

17.  Praise at least as often as you disparage.

18.  Never let your errors pass without admission.

19.  Become less suspicious of joy.

20.  Understand humility.

21.  Forgive.

22.  Foster dignity.

23.  Live memorably.

24.  Love yourself.

25.  Endure.’

It’s an interesting and challenging list and I am trying to read and re-read it so that I can savour and consider each principle.

However, the greatest impact on me was from the short paragraph he wrote after the list: it reads –

‘I don’t expect the perfect attainment of these principles. However, I post them as a standard for my conduct as an adult. Should any of my friends or colleagues catch me violating any one of them, bust me.’

Molière wrote ‘It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable’

What a way to live your life! To give your friends and colleagues a list of how you intend to behave and to ask them to let you know when your behaviour falls short: that pretty much sums up authenticity for me. I wonder if any of them ever did pick him up on his actions or words. I wonder how it would be if we were to draw up our own list of principles – for ourselves, for our families, for our teams. If you search Google Images for ‘family manifesto’ or ‘team manifesto’, you will find hundreds of images. Are these simply attractive artwork to hang on the wall or are people measuring themselves up against them and holding each other accountable?

Today’s pebble for your thoughts is this: what are your principles of behaviour, as an individual, as a team, or as a family? To whom are you accountable? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to make progress in your career or your life, why not email me to see how we can work together?





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