Sometimes I wish that kids were provided with a little book at school - one which explained frankly what they could expect from life, what sort of reactions they'd likely have to it, and what the ultimate outcomes would be.
That little book wouldn't be something we'd all be able to understand from the start, of course. But, if it were laminated and strongly bound, it might be something we could refer back to in periods of doubt - why is this happening to me? - and give us some hope through a feeling of shared suffering. Most importantly, if it was written with wisdom, it could be something we'd draw different messages from with each reading, as our life experiences intersect with the messages of the book.
As I envisage the first pages of this book: Welcome to the start of your life. You may not know it yet, but all of life is about overcoming disappointment and trying to find personal happiness in the face of overwhelming odds. Get the balance wrong, and your pursuit of happiness will unearth deep pain. Get it right, and you'll realise that your definition of happiness is flexible and wholly under your control.
Life's a bitch, it's true. You first realise there's no toothfairy, then there's no Father Christmas, then Jesus may or may not exist or have existed, then the concept of a 'strong political leader' is an elusive pipedream, then the odds are seriously stacked against you ever achieving a middle class life from the very start, then 'romance' is just about appreciating difference rather than aspiring to some ideal perfection...
You understand what life is by first learning what it isn't. With each misconception chipped away, you slowly start to see more of the image, but it's always blurry, and you're always at risk of adding your own prejudices into those distortions.
You'll meet people who'll intentionally try to hurt you, but they're just trying to protect themselves. You're outside their defined comfort zone, and you need to treat them like strange dogs: don't corner them. If you have the emotional energy and time, treats, patting and speaking to them in a low tone of voice can bring them around to your side.
When it comes to what you want out of life, you can be happy, sad or anything in between. Aloof? Emo? Smug? Brimming with humility and a sense of awe over the human stain? These are all valid options. It's your choice, and ultimately a decision between vanilla ice-cream or chocolate ice-cream: there's no 'right' one. There's only the decision which leaves you satisfied, and either hurts or builds up those around you.
Tone down your harsh words. Tomorrow you may no longer agree with them, or wish you hadn't stated them in the manner you did. You can always say them later, but you cannot un-say them.
More than anything else, don't give up hope. Everything fades, dies or is forgotten, so only now counts and what you choose to do with it. If it sounds like a cliche, it's probably true, no matter how much you want to reject it. It's ultimately easier to build on the entrenched wisdom of cliches rather than rediscover the wheel.
Things which cannot and should not be tolerated in the least, not even through anger: racism, sexism, xenophobia, class prejudice or discrimination of any kind. You cannot be a 'little racist' any more than you can be a 'little pregnant'.
On that last note, always invest in condoms, they're worth it. And, one day, remember to tell your kids all the things you wish you knew as a kid, instead of the things your mom and dad told you. That's called 'progress': be part of it.
Oh, and good luck. No, seriously, you'll need it.
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