I have been friends with Ben Baron for more than thirty years. We met at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and we’ve been hanging—give or take–ever since. There were several years at school when we would gather in Ben’s room on Thursday nights and watch Hill St. Blues. It was Ben, Chuck Welsh, Jim Kachadoorian, Joe Gamache and me. I liked the odds. Four incredibly sweet football players and me. It was the only club I belonged to in college and I haven’t joined one since. We all went our separate ways and for some reason, unknown to all of us, or maybe known to all of us but NEVER acknowledged, Ben was accepted to Harvard Business School. Fast forward thirty years, a very successful career at Kaplan Test Prep and now Ben lives less than an hour away from me in Colorado. He owns and runs driving schools and college prep test centers. We meet for lunch every couple of months to catch up, discuss sports, politics, books and our children. He always peruses the menu and ends up ordering a cheeseburger and fries. I always peruse the menu and end up ordering some kind of salad. He constantly makes me laugh.
Last week he made me laugh harder than usual. He told me that he had been thinking a lot about life and that for him, after much experience and pondering, it had come down to two basic rules:Don’t Be An Idiot and Don’t Be An Asshole. I loved the simple truth of it. And then I said, “Ben, I think you’re right, but I also think it’s amazing how many people have a hard time with just those two.”
In the 51 years I’ve been on this planet, I’d say that I’ve been good on Ben’s rules for about 49.5 of them. There was a short period in my forties when I pretty much botched them both and consequently went through a very difficult time. I am happy to report that I’m back to being impeccable when it comes to Ben’s criteria. In the week since we had our lunch, I find his rules a useful self-check as well as a reasonable standard to hold others by. It offers both levity (always a good thing when people are behaving badly) and clarity. Case in point: A prospective architect wrote me a snarky email when I requested a second viewing of a house she had designed. Instead of getting angry or firing off a nasty reply, I simply considered Ben’s rules. Which made me a) laugh at the idiocy of such a note and b) come to the decision that she could not be hired. After all, it was only the courting process and she had already broken BOTH Ben’s rules. I also offer up Ben’s theory as a useful life tool for my teenage daughters who are figuring out their place in the world and the people they choose as friends and boyfriends and I just kind of suggest that if those in the running can’t pass this test, they should be voted OFF the island.
Of course we all—like me— have had our moments, but history will show where people consistently fall in relation to Ben’s Rules. It’s not necessarily a high bar, but it’s a beautiful indicator.