Thomas Jefferson didn’t hold back when it came to advising on personal conduct. In 1825 he wrote to John Spear Smith and included a “decalogue of canons for observation in practical life.” Or, his ten axioms for personal behaviour.

  1. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do to-day.
  2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
  3. Never spend your money before you have it.
  4. Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.
  5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
  6. We never repent of having eaten too little.
  7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
  8. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.
  9. Take things always by their smooth handle.
  10. When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.

All of it makes as much sense today as it did 190 years ago. None of it is easy.

On the day I found this list, number nine hit me hardest. I was battling for structure and sense in an extremely tactical, long running, debilitating and tough debate. Emotions were running high.

Jefferson reached across the years and told me not to take offence, not to take it personally. Not to “accentuate the positives” exactly, but to find a way to deal with things sensibly. Maybe not an an ice-cream scoop every time, but no fuss, just business.