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    Ideas | Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

    17 survival skills for modern adults

    Forget about shooting a bow and arrow or sailing a boat. Modern humans, men and women alike, need a different set of skills to get by.

    By Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

    In 2018, knowing how to shoot a bow and arrow is far less important than being able to put down a phone and communicate with the people around us.“All of it’s about how to be good human, as opposed to how to be a good man,” said Joshua Ginsberg, a practicing man and a software architect who is giving an upcoming TedX talk about how to counteract toxic manliness. “I don’t care if you know how to sail a boat. If you’re a [jerk], I don’t want to be on that boat with you.”

    Below are 17 useful survival skills for a modern human of any stripe.

    1. Be OK with less.

    There’s a phenomenon psychologists describe as “hedonic adaptation”: Basically, people like the neurochemical reward that new things bring. This is problematic for our houses, our wallets, our carbon footprints, and our waistlines. Dominque Loreau, author of “L’art de la Simplicite: How to Live More with Less,” argues that “we do not possess things; we are possessed by things.” Doing well with less involves appreciating what you already have, and breaking the habits that keep you acquiring things — including books about how to live with less.

    2. Take a bus, train, or subway and get where you want to go.


    As of 2016, 54 percent of the world’s population lived in cities, a number expected to rise to 60 percent by 2030, according to the United Nations. Public transportation is the lifeblood of those cities, and being able to successfully navigate without relying on cars or cabs is essential.

    3. Drive a stick shift.

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    Only around 3 to 5 percent of cars in America are sold with a manual transmission. But those percentages rise precipitously if you travel outside of the United States, so it’s always a good skill to have in your back pocket. Plus, it’s satisfying.

    4. Feed yourself.

    In his book, “Live Work Work Work Die: A Journey in the Savage Heart of Silicon Valley,” journalist Corey Pein describes a moment with a tech-savvy roommate, an “overachieving Ivy Leaguer,” who was utterly befuddled by a rice cooker and could not sauté a chicken breast. Sure, we can outsource food acquisition and preparation, but come on. Person up.

    5. Do your own laundry without messing it up.

    6. Know how to understand the news.

    In 2016, a group of researchers at Stanford investigated young people’s ability to tell the difference between fake news and real news. “Overall,” the report read, “young people’s ability to reason about information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.” Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield, when asked what he’d include on a list of human skills, immediately answered, “Inform yourself. . . . We live in a democracy, and democracies are ruled by public opinion. And one of the main things you can get from a good education is how to stand up to public opinion when it’s wrong. These are vital skills for both sexes.”

    7. Know how to exist online.

    “I think a skill that people really need now is the ability to monitor their own information intake, because nobody is going to go up to you and say, ‘Hey, I can’t help but notice this is hour four on Facebook and you’re just sinking deeper and deeper,’” said Kelly Williams Brown, author of “Adulting: How to become a Grown-Up in 535 Easy(ish) Steps.” Set limits for yourself on how much time you spend on social media. Reach out to the real humans whose pictures you’re thumbs-upping. Thinking twice before posting anything, ever, especially if you’re taking a sleep aid. Also, use punctuation.

    8. Take responsibility.


    For the purposes of this conversation, there are two kinds of taking responsibility. In conversations about manliness and what it means to be a man, “taking responsibility” is code for “being in charge,” whatever the outcome. More valuable is learning how to take responsibility for something you did that was wrong.

    9. Listen.

    10. Make a logical argument

    This one comes from a list by the Art of Manliness. It’s a useful one: “Debates and arguments should be civil affairs. . . that avoid logical fallacies and employ sound reasoning.”

    11. Start a fire without matches.

    Those who survive the robot apocalypse will be glad they learned this one.

    12. Get enough sleep.

    13. Take compliments.

    Don’t deflect, accept. And if someone else is being awesome, let them know.

    14. Be at ease around children.

    Not everyone has or wants to have children. In fact, the US childbirth rate just reached a 30-year low in 2017, a trend that doesn’t appear to be slackening. But at some point, you will come in contact with children, and this will require patience, fortitude, and humor. Kids need to be taken seriously and have their needs and wants appreciated, if not exactly met.


    Also, diapers aren’t nearly so hard as you might think.

    15. Ask for help.

    16. Make and hold onto friends.

    “The thing that allows you to be confident and effective in this new world of machines and computers is people skills. Alexa be damned,” explained Brett McKay, founder of the Art of Manliness. “I’ve found, if there is someone who knows how to navigate the social landscape, they’re going to do well in life, not just professionally but personally as well.”

    17. Change a tire.

    Sure, you could call AAA, but better to know your way around the right end of a jack.

    Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, a frequent Ideas contributor, is an American freelance writer living in London.