Who was John Perry Barlow? He was a lot of things: a writer, a political activist, a rancher, and a lyricist for the Grateful Dead. Quite a résumé.

Barlow died last month at the age of 70. Forty years ago, on the eve of his 30th birthday, he sat down and penned a list of “principles of adult behavior.”1 These principles address a central question of life:

What’s the best way to live?

We’ve each got to answer this question for ourselves. But we’d be foolish not to consider the answers of others, and the 25 ideas (and ideals) below are exceptionally thoughtful. Consider Barlow’s note at the end to be a 26th principle.

John Perry Barlow’s Principles of Adult Behavior

  1. Be patient. No matter what.
  2. Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, never blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn’t 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 who 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.

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.


We can’t address all 25 of these at once, but we can certainly pick one and spend the next week focusing on it. I’m working on #2 at the moment.

  1. Hat tip to Dan Pink for sharing this list in his excellent newsletter, The Pinkcast↩︎