Late last year, actor Ethan Hawke published a book called Rules for a Knight. The book consists of a letter from one of Hawke’s ancestors, a 15th-century Cornish knight, written to his children outlining the rules for being a good person. The letter and ancestor are fictional, but Hawke wrote the book as a guide on living a virtuous life for his own children.
A knight, fearing he may not return from battle, writes a letter to his children in an attempt to leave a record of all he knows. In a series of ruminations on solitude, humility, forgiveness, honesty, courage, grace, pride, and patience, he draws on the ancient teachings of Eastern and Western philosophy, and on the great spiritual and political writings of our time. His intent: to give his children a compass for a journey they will have to make alone, a short guide to what gives life meaning and beauty.
I missed this when it came out, but I’ve run across it twice in the past two weeks, so it appears to be one of those books — perhaps like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up — that’s hanging around and resonating with people. Shane Parrish of Farnam Street wrote about the book last week and shared the book’s 20 rules for being a knight.
2. Humility. Never announce that you are a knight, simply behave as one. You are better than no one, and no one is better than you.
6. Friendship. The quality of your life will, to a large extent, be decided by with whom you elect to spend your time.
10. Grace. Grace is the ability to accept change. Be open and supple; the brittle break.
14. Discipline. In the field of battle, as in all things, you will perform as you practice. With practice, you build the road to accomplish your goals. Excellence lives in attention to detail. Give your all, all the time. Don’t save anything for the walk home. The better a knight prepares, the less willing he will be to surrender.
“Don’t save anything for the walk home.” That’s a nice little homage to Gattaca, in which Ethan Hawke’s genetically flawed character is asked by his brother how he’s been able to excel in society and Hawke answers, “I never saved anything for the swim back.”
Actor/writer/director Ethan Hawke did a well-received AMA (ask me anything) on Reddit yesterday. A few highlights follow. On privacy and family:
My kids and I always have a debate about if the positives outweigh the negatives. Great seats to the Nicks game vs. being hounded for autographs at halftime. Every give has a take. For me, the blessings far outweigh the curses. I consider it a kind of luxury tax. For my family, I think it’s more difficult; they don’t get to work with Denzel Washington and Sidney Lumet, but they still have the paparazzi.
On Nicolas Cage:
I’m kind of obsessed with Nic Cage. I just found out about /r/onetruegod too. He’s the only actor since Marlon Brando that’s actually done anything new with the art of acting; he’s successfully taken us away from an obsession with naturalism into a kind of presentation style of acting that I imagine was popular with the old troubadours. If I could erase his bottom half bad movies, and only keep his top half movies, he would blow everyone else out of the water. He’s put a little too much water in his beer, but he is still one of the great actors of our time. And working with him was an absolute pleasure. In fact, one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever done is the last scene in LORD OF WAR.
On hobbies and work:
No… I’m so lucky, so much of what I would do as a hobby I do for my professional life. I love what I do. And I get to shake it up by directing in a movie, acting in a movie, directing a play, writing a book, acting in a play - i’ve found a way over the years to continue to shake up my job so it remains interesting to me. I’m one of the handful of people who doesn’t want a hobby because I’d rather be doing my job.
And on the one thing he would change in his life:
I don’t want to say. You know, the things that we want to change about our lives are things we don’t want everybody to know, and one of the most difficult things for me was having to learn in front of the public that having a reputation is a double-edged sword. It prevents me from making a first impression. I feel like I haven’t made a first impression on anyone in 20 years. There are many things about my life and my behavior that I wish I could change, situations I wish I could have handled better, relationships I could have healed, but unfortunately the earth seems to turn one way and all we can do is try to learn.
Hawke lives in my neighborhood and I see him every once in awhile on the street and at the playground. That “I haven’t made a first impression on anyone in 20 years” makes me want to give him a hug the next time I see him.