Ten Rules for Being Human

The Ten Rules provide a helpful roadmap – not a magical formula that you can use to make all of your problems go away. Each rule has its own set of lessons that you resolve in order to lead a more fulfilled life. How you deal with these lessons will differ in kind and magnitude. The rules are about coming to realize – and accept – that life is a compilation of positive and negative experiences, and that all of the answers you seek lie within.

Do you know what the rules are for being human? Not that there’s universally-agreed upon tenets for being a well-rounded, wise soul. God knows there are lots of “How-To” books and articles on happiness, gratitude, wealth, etc. (way too many to list here). The Ten Rules are from Dr. Cherie Carter-Scott’s book If Life Is A Game, These Are the Rules, then they appeared in the Way of the Peaceful Warrior and the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

In Dr. Carter-Scott’s book, she describes the Ten Rules as a “template for living a happy life” and encourages you to “learn the lessons, listen to your messages, align with your spiritual DNA, and fulfill your dreams.” Simple enough, right?!?! They actually are quite easy to grasp yet, often, challenging to remember and implement when you’re in a rut, lost, sad, restless, or seeking answers to life’s challenging questions.

Sketch of colorful stick figures standing in a line, holding hands, along a backdrop of the map of the world.

Of all the “How-To” guides I’ve come across, this one resonates…deeply. The Ten Rules aren’t gimmicky quick fixes that miraculously lead to a peaceful, fulfilling life without challenges. And I didn’t go searching for them, they FOUND me: the first time was in September 2001 (while surfing the internet) and the most recent time was in August 2019 (surfing my laptop folders for something completely unrelated, mind you). These times are what I call the IN-BETWEEN phases of my life, which signified major course corrections; when I had nothing solid to guide me or reassure me that I was on the right path. But in trusting my gut and surrendering, I ended up where I needed to; granted with a few more battle wounds, but nonetheless wiser, happier, and more grateful.

I’ll write about the discovery and rediscovery of the Ten Rules another time, but this post is a cursory overview of the Ten Rules. As I embark on this new endeavor of launching Behaving Humanly, I can’t think of a better way to start the journey than to use the rules as a launching pad to blast off into the blogosphere. (Here we go!)

About the Rules…

While the glass is always half-full from my perspective, again, this template is not a magical formula that you can use to make all of your problems go away. So you should view it as a helpful roadmap, not a “have-to” or “must-do” checklist of things you check off a bucket list.

An old book with a brown leather cover and the words, "The Rules of Life" printed in all gold, capital letters.

Each rule has its own set of lessons that you resolve in order to “journey successfully through life.” How you deal with these lessons will differ in kind and magnitude. It’s about coming to realize – and accept – that life is a compilation of positive and negative experiences. The negative ones we’d all like to avoid, but sticking your head in the sand won’t get you far. (Believe me, I’ve tried.) Maturity and wisdom help you work through your challenges and learn your lessons. As Buddha said, “Life is suffering” but only because of its ever-changing nature and our inability to practice non-attachment.

Diving into the details of each lesson would make this post longer than it already is (plus you’d probably never come back to this site, which would make me very sad). So for now, I’ve summarized them in this glossary, and in future posts, I’ll dive more deeply into the specific lessons for each rule in order to help you realize that you’re not alone, you’re not destined to live a life of misery, and that you too can become wiser and stronger if you’re willing to put in the work.  

Without further treks into rabbit holes, and distractions (oh look! Squirrel!) here are the Ten Rules. Oh yeah, one last thing, the quoted sections from this point forward (and the ones above) are from Dr. Carter-Scott’s book.

Rule One: You Will Receive A Body

Silhouette of a human body standing upright with arms extended.

This rule is all about your physical experience as a spiritual being. Your body serves as a “buffer between you and the outside world…” and is non-transferable, it comes with a no-exchange policy, so love it or hate it, you should take care of it. And if you don’t love it (not very many people do), then try to change it and do it from a place of love and self-acceptance, not loathing and self-hatred – regardless of whether it’s exercise or plastic surgery. Otherwise, it won’t matter if you go under the knife multiple times and transform yourself into a supermodel because, ultimately, the physical changes won’t lead you to accept yourself in all your wondrous glory. You’ll project an image of beauty and assuredness on the outside, but on the inside, you’ll be a hot mess (and no one likes a hot mess!). The lessons include acceptance, respect, self-esteem, and pleasure.

Rule Two: You Will Be Presented With Lessons

A black-and-white sketch of a stack of books, with the one on the top sitting upright, open; showing blank pages.

The focus of this rule is on discovering your purpose and making sense of life. And as you contemplate these deep thoughts, you’ll be presented with lessons throughout this “informal” school of life (yes, learning is a life-long process). “You may encounter challenging lessons that others don’t have to face, while others spend years struggling with challenges that you don’t need to deal with.” So it’s probably best not to compare your journey to another’s because that’ll slow your learning and stunt your growth, and you’ll end up getting stuck on the “whys” because there are some things that will seem random and unfair. Also, it’s your prerogative whether you opt to learn your lessons (yes, you have choice in the matter), but it’s important to at least try because that’s how you grow and gain wisdom (am I right?!?!?). The process may not be easy, but the rewards will be worth the challenges. (I’m speaking from experience here.) The lessons here are more like tools to help you on your path, and include openness, choice, fairness, and grace.

Rule Three: There Are No Mistakes, Only Lessons

A black chalkboard with the words, "Never a failure, always a lesson" in white, cursive writing.

Aside from mistakes being nothing more than lessons, this rule is about perception: how you view your mistakes (often as MASSIVE FAILURES) relative to how you view someone else’s (often as itty-bitty blunders). When plans go awry, you’re likely to get angry and think it’s all your fault or someone else’s, or that God (or the universe) has a twisted sense of humor. You might assume that you’re done, kaput, and that success will ALWAYS elude you. But once you take some deep breaths, cry a good cry, and change your perception, you’ll understand that you’re not a loser (now go wash off that “L” you painted on your forehead). “Human growth is a process of experimentation, trial, and error, ultimately leading to wisdom.” Nothing is guaranteed (well, some things are, like death and taxes). If you feel wronged by someone, it’s best to examine your reactions to them (and not buy a Voodoo doll to stick with pins). If you take a shortcut and don’t really put in 100%, it’s time to look inward and examine your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (why do I always do that?!?!). Viewing your mistakes as lessons also empowers you to see that you’re not a victim of circumstance. The lessons here are compassion, forgiveness, ethics, and humor.

Rule Four: A Lesson Is Repeated Until Learned

Multi-color, arrow-headed lines  signifying movement in many directions.

This rule is about how the same lessons appear in various forms until you learn them. Otherwise, you’ll be like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, and “draw to you teachers to teach you that lesson until you get it right.” If you keep dating the same type of person or face the same issues with bosses or coworkers, it’s time to pay attention (get your shit together already!). The first step is recognizing the patterns and “shifting your perspective” from one of victimhood (why does this always happen to me?!?!) to empowerment (what is the lesson here???). Avoidance is the easy path, but your issues will pop back up like that Bozo the Clown bop bag. “To face the challenges means you need to accept the fact that something within you keeps drawing you to the same kind of person or issue…” This can be a painful truth to accept, but seeking to make a positive change will help you become a (more) mature version of yourself. The lessons include awareness, willingness, causality, and patience.

Rule Five: Learning Does Not End

A green street sign attached to a pole, depicting three white arrows pointing in different directions, with the word, "Learning" printed four times.

Unless you’ve checked out and decided to live your life as an automaton, there’ll always be lessons to learn, because yes, say it with me, learning is a lifelong process. (I have a Ph.D. but my learning continues, and unlike my “A” average in school, I’m probably a “B-“ at best in the school of life.) Again, there’s no instruction manual other than the one you develop along the way, with pain and heartache as the best teachers that eventually lead to humility and wisdom (unless you’re a glutton for punishment or have no conscience).

True story: When I was a kid, I thought that once people reached adulthood (let’s say 20 onward), they’d have life figured out and always do the right thing. They’d be mature, kind, and caring adults who wouldn’t hurt others. In other words, they would master their lessons and live an awesome life. Sadly, my theory was – and continues to be – proven wrong. As an adult myself, I realize that I’m just as guilty. But all hope is not lost because without lessons that help us grow into better versions of ourselves, life wouldn’t be as interesting (am I right?!?!). Even those who we assume have mastered this thing called life (Mother Teresa, Gandhi, The Dalai Lama) are/were challenged with lessons. “Your journey on Earth is constantly unfolding,” and the challenge is to “embrace your role as a perpetual student of life.” The lessons include surrender, commitment, humility, and flexibility.

Rule Six: “There” Is No Better Than “Here”

Illustration of the the front page of a newspaper with "Top News" as a header and "The Future Is Now" as a cover story.

This rule speaks to being present, in the here and now, and not trapping yourself into believing that you’ll be happy IF ONLY you were _________ (fill-in-the-blank). Setting conditions on your happiness will only disappoint, leaving you to strive for another “there.” Please don’t get it twisted, you should set goals for yourself, but that’s totally different from thinking that the grass is greener “there” or that life will be a bed of roses once you get that awesome job, buy that cool sports car, or lose some weight. Often, “there” becomes a moving target or goal post. So unless you appreciate “here,” your happiness with “there” – once you arrive – will be fleeting because you’ll look for the next “there.” Living in the present is the goal of this rule. (This is one of my most challenging lessons, but I’m getting better at appreciating “here” by exercising gratitude.) The lessons are gratitude, unattachment, abundance, and peace.

Rule Seven: Others Are Only Mirrors of You

Illustration of an animated, white square (with eyes and a mouth) looking at itself in a yellow-framed mirror and smiling.

This rule is about being drawn to those who are like us and put off by those who are nothing like us. And “your reactions to others say more about you than they do about others.” The point is that you have more to learn from those you dislike than those you like (hard one to swallow, I know). As much as you might convince yourself that you’re being OBJECTIVE, you’re not (objectivity in human relations, in my opinion, is a farce). We filter our views of the world – people, places, things – based on our lived experiences. So if you were raised by an overbearing mom that nitpicked at you – your looks, choices of friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, etc. – chances are you’re just as opinionated and make others relive your trauma. Likewise, you won’t be a fan of someone you come into contact with later in life who’s just as opinionated.

The people you dislike are your teachers, and present opportunities to “heal past incidents of anger, hurt, or irritation.” Not ones to avoid and criticize in the spirit of self-righteous indignation. So using these opportunities to “shift your perspective” from critical judgments of others (outward) to examining yourself (inward), is the main focus of this rule. You don’t have to like everyone, but you do have a lot to learn from the ones you can’t stand. The lessons here are tolerance, clarity, healing, and support.

Rule Eight: What You Make of Your Life Is Up To You

An illustration of an open book with silhouettes of people - young and old - across the blank pages. Behind them are shadows of trees and birds flying in the sky on the right.

Among other things, you may not have much say in where and when you’re born, who your parents are, how rich or poor they are, how many siblings you have, or whether or not you’re healthy. But you DO have a say in determining the course of your life. Your belief in your abilities WILL dictate your success (whatever SUCCESS means to you.) “When you fully recognize your challenges, your gifts, and your individual reality, and you accept the life path they represent, the world provides whatever you need to succeed.” So yeah, your limitations are self-imposed. Your reality is of your own making, and the more the New Age philosophies and the laws of physics and science are shown to align (for example, we’re all energy and connected, etc.), you come to realize that this not about rainbow-farting unicorns. The lessons here are responsibility, release, courage, power, and adventure.

Rule Nine: All Your Answers Lie Inside of You

Multi-color profile silhouette of a male with a yellow compass in the middle of his head. A multi-color cloud emitting from the top of the head, with yellow overtones.

Lucky are those who know at a very young age what they want to be when they grow up. Like the kid who wants to be a doctor, or the one obsessed with all-things dinosaurs (paleontologist, maybe?). As for you and me, maybe it didn’t – or hasn’t – come easy. Maybe you became a lawyer, engineer, or doctor because that’s what your parents wanted (because secretly you wanted to weave baskets and live on the beach). Or you came to realize that you DID want to be a doctor and pursued your love of medicine to help others (awesome!). Maybe you didn’t opt for college and/or decided you weren’t smart enough to follow your dreams. Unfortunately, we cross paths with assholes who tell us that we’re not good enough to do something (my high school guidance counselor told me I wasn’t “college material.”) But there are also those who inspire us to pursue what we instinctively know we’d be great at (like my Ph.D. Advisor who told me I had a “gift for writing”).

Regardless, what others tell us about ourselves takes on more meaning, especially if you’re unsure of yourself. But as this rule makes clear, “deep inside, you already know all you need to know” and that “inner wisdom transmits messages about our life path.” Sometimes, you’re very attuned to what your gut tells you. The messages may come to you as “a-ha!” moments, a sign on the side of a bus, a fortune cookie (don’t laugh). But you generally dismiss them as too far-fetched, not worth the pursuit because, you know, you have freakin’ bills to pay (don’t we all?!?!?). This is where trusting yourself becomes crucial, and trusting that, as Joseph Campbell says, “follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls” (deep, huh?). The lessons for this rule include listening, trust, and inspiration.

Rule Ten: You Will Forget All of This At Birth

Illustrated left human hand with only the index finger extended, with a red ribbon tied in a bow.

Unless you dedicate your life to monkhood or any other enlightenment-oriented path, your journey through life – upbringing, schooling, experiences, etc. – will make it hard to internalize these rules and work through your challenges as a natural, normal part of living. “Each lesson is like another stone along your life path, and as you travel and learn your lessons, some may look and feel familiar.” When you have clarity (“a-ha!” moments, the sea parts…), it signifies that you’re “remembering what you originally knew.” In those moments of clarity, of being put in touch with what you already know (but forgot you knew), a peaceful feeling washes over you. In therapy, they call these breakthroughs, and afterward, you’re often physically exhausted and need more rest/sleep than usual. “Remembering and forgetting are the dance of consciousness.” The peaceful feelings don’t have to be fleeting, and as you work through your challenges and learn your lessons, the balance can shift in favor of remembering; this is the essence of Rule Ten, and the lessons include faith, wisdom, and limitlessness.

Before We Part…

If the “most direct path to your wisdom is paved with your life’s lessons,” then I have some serious wisdom to share (grab the popcorn and get comfortable). Not because I’ve figured it all out, but because I’ve learned many lessons the hard way; by repeatedly making mistakes, ignoring my intuition, not trusting myself, and seeking answers from outside (I still do some of this.).

My bicultural upbringing – in a lot of ways – has forced me to expand my perspective especially when my Afghan-ness clashes with my American-ness, or vice versa. The fact that I earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology has helped a lot. (Hell, I always say that it was the most expensive and longest therapy I’ve had.) It equipped me with tools to learn my lessons, and in turn, share them with my students when I taught sociology and psychology, undergraduate classes. It’s also come in handy in the workplace, and during the time I spent in the war zone in Afghanistan as a researcher (check out my War Log, if interested).

As a fallible human being that’s been lucky enough to have had some awesome opportunities and experiences, I want to use my background, education, and lessons learned to help you. Sharing my lessons learned – as well as the ones I struggle with – is THE core motivation for why I created Behaving Humanly. My hope is that you join me on this adventure and discover the tools to move beyond your comfort zone, trust yourself, learn your lessons, and pursue YOUR dreams with laser-sharp focus.

Love, peace, and blessings,

FN