Work, pass on your genes, then die. The formula for civilized man is simple. The things to do in between are the confusing parts. How should you behave? When should you marry and have kids? What should you do when your boss is angry? Are your friends bad for you?
The load has always been particularly heavy on the middle class man, mostly because what is required for him to be successful and socially respectable forces him to conquer his inherent pride. This may seem impossible, but as far back as New Kingdom Ancient Egypt (1550-1070 BC), the task had already been broken down into easily digestible memes, ready for sharing with one’s social equals.
The Instruction of Any is a father’s advice to his son. It was intended to teach average young men the habits that would ensure their success in a stratified society. What’s unique about this instructional text is that the audience is free to be critical of these habits. However, more than 3000 years later I can’t pretend that they aren’t still effective.
1. Marry young
Take a wife while you’re young, That she make a son for you; She should bare for you while you’re youthful, It is proper to make people. Happy the man whose people are many, He is saluted on account of his progeny.
We can’t all be pyramid building ubermensch, but we do all have the natural capacity to triumph over our own mortality.
2. Repeat proper observances
Observe the feast of your god, And repeat its season, God is angry if it is neglected.
Whether you believe in Osiris, Jesus or Superman — you do have an option to exercise some sort of control over the many things that seem beyond your influence. Follow the behaviour pattern, try to imitate your supernatural ideal, and you will avoid a life of chaos.
3. Avoid women of disrepute
Beware of a woman who is a stranger, One not known in her town; Don’t stare at her when she goes by, Do not know her carnally. A deep water whose course is unknown, Such is a woman away from her husband. “I am pretty,” she tells you daily,” When she has no witnesses; She is ready to ensnare you, A great deadly crime when it is heard.
The nature of this woman was elucidated millennia before her profile picture matched with you on Tinder. That’s millions of men who have had their egos inflated to stupidity by the same feminine archetype — an undignified level of responsiveness.
4. Don’t argue
In a quarrel do not speak, Your silence will serve you well.
Has a person ever thanked you for correcting them because they enjoyed that learning experience and admire the scale of your knowledge? People don’t want you to surprise them, and certainly do not want you to make them feel ignorant.
5. Do not take to drink
Don’t indulge in drinking beer, Lest you utter evil speech And don’t know what you’re saying.
That cool calming throat lotion was an essential form of nutrition for the average Egyptian slave. There is no need for you to debase yourself any further than middle class.
6. Use friendship as an opportunity to improve your character
Keep away from a hostile man, Do not let him be your comrade; Befriend one who is straight and true, One whose actions you have seen. If your rightness matches his, The friendship will be balanced.
The high-school friend who told you about that time he stabbed a guy in the head with a ballpoint pen may have entertained you, but it was your Nietzsche-quoting-ROK–reading gym friend who improved you.
7. Save selfishly
Let your hand preserve what is in your house, Wealth accrues to him who guards it; Let your hand not scatter it to strangers, Lest it turn to loss for you. If wealth is placed where it bears interest, It comes back to you redoubled; Make a storehouse for your own wealth, Your people will find it on your way.
Poverty in the developing world is always blamed on the “selfish middle class man”. Indeed selfishness is not a characteristic of the poor, who are unwise with their money.
8. Work the soil
Learn about the way of a man Who undertakes to found his household. Make a garden, enclose a patch, In addition to your plowland; Set out trees within it, As shelter about your house. Fill your hand with all the flowers That your eye can see; One has need of all of them, It is good fortune not to lose them.
Ancient near-eastern literature has a common tradition of idealizing man as a gardener or caretaker of the natural world. There may be some value in this hobby that would be worth indulging in.
9. Stay away from the herd
Do not enter a crowd, If you find it in an uproar, And about to come to blows. Don’t pass anywhere near by, Keep away from their tumult, Lest you be brought before the court, When an inquiry is made.
Much like the reason joining a gang doesn’t appeal to the thinking man, if a group of people can reduce the idea motivating their behaviour to a colour, item of clothing or slogan; it’s probably a poorly conceived, error riddled idea.
10. Charm your superiors
Do not talk back to an angry superior, Let him have his way; Speak sweetly when he speaks sourly, It’s the remedy that clams the heart. Fighting answers carry sticks, And your strength collapses; Do not vex your heart. He will return to praise you soon, When his hour of rage has passed.
The ancient Egyptian couldn’t lose his job or be promoted but you can. Common sense should dictate that you control your temper and quietly climb the ladder.
Any’s instructions are easier to keep in mind than they are to habituate. That’s because they were not intended to flatter. Common people share common experiences regardless of which country or period of human history they live in. His intention, I imagine, was to alleviate the burden of middle class existence on those capable of learning.
Read the Instruction of Any in Lichtheim, M 1976. Ancient Egyptian Literature Volume 2: The New Kingdom. Berkeley: University of California Press.