Helping Houston

The 12 Commandments of Virtuous Houstonians

It’s the little things that add up to a better city.

By Morgan Kinney July 20, 2018 Published in the August 2018 issue of Houstonia Magazine

This is easier to face with a buddy.

1. Thou Shalt Carpool 

Because that hippie-commie pipedream known as “functional mass transit” forever eludes this city, buddy up and zip down the HOV lane in just one (1) two-ton, carbon-belching deathtrap. Trust us—the savings in congestion, gas money, and traffic-based existential dread really do add up.

2. Thou Shalt Adopt an Animal (and pick up after it)

Step one is following your favorite shelter on Instagram and squealing at its feed of adoptable dogs (or cats or snakes or birds). Step two is breaking down and adopting. And once the pup is ready for its first walk, please, please, please pick up the poop from the neighbor’s lawn—we’re tired of the angry Nextdoor posts.

3. Thou Shalt Be Civically Engaged 

Whatever your personal politics, if you find yourself living amid a nightmarish hellscape governed by questionable morals and ill-advised policies, nothing beats participating in some boots-on-the-ground collective action. We recommend following Indivisible Houston (, a nonpartisan progressive group, for regular updates on protests and activism throughout the region.

4. Thou Shalt Support Local Artists

Peruse the 55-acre Sawyer Yards creative campus in the First Ward, where dozens of sculptors and painters and artisans practice among repurposed industrial warehouses. Or attend the biannual Bayou City Art Festival, where more than 300 artists hawk their work against the scenic backdrop of Memorial Park or the downtown skyline. Just please, please don’t buy more chevron prints from Target.

5. Thou Shalt Learn to Merge

Most Houstonians jammed at the 59/610 interchange wouldn’t let Beyoncé merge even with JJ Watt in the passenger seat. But if we all sucked it up and learned to properly zipper-merge—in which drivers fold in continually as they reach the end of a lane—research shows that congestion would drop by as much as 40 percent.

6. Thou Shalt Return Your Grocery Cart 

It’s a well-documented phenomenon that when otherwise pleasant H-E-B customers lower their tailgates, they enter some yet-to-be-named fugue state that renders it acceptable to carelessly discard a shopping cart, leaving it to bounce against vehicles like so many asteroids bombarding the surface of the moon. The only known remedy is depositing said cart in the appropriate receptacle.

7. Thou Shalt Recycle

On your next trip to Crystal Beach, as you’re marveling at the dolphin cruising beside the Bolivar Ferry, ruminate on the road-tested fact that it only takes ol’ Flipper slurping up four plastic grocery bags for him to go belly up. Not to be a downer—you’re on vacation, we get it!— but regular trips to the neighborhood recycling center (where you can even dispose of glass until curbside pickup resumes in 2019) keep harmful waste away from wildlife and out of our waterways.

8. Thou Shalt Know Their City

You can’t fully understand this city without partaking in a so-called toxic tour—held regularly by environmental nonprofit TEJAS—to witness the impacts of chemical plants and refineries located just miles from downtown. And you can’t claim to know half of all that happens in this 627-square-mile city without reading (and subscribing!) to local newspapers, magazines, broadcasts, and subreddits.

9. Thou Shalt Not %$#&ing Litter!! 

The worst incidents always seem to be drive-bys: dumping whole trash cans of detritus from a half-opened car door, flicking cigarette butts at a stoplight, and—the absolute worst—slinging dirty diapers out the window on the highway. C’mon, let’s all be adults—just can it.


Blue pit viper 😱💙

A post shared by Snakes (@beautifulsnakes) on

10. Thou Shalt Not Kill Opossums/Snakes 

Not every animal can be fuzzy or cute or amenable to manhandling, but that’s no reason to hack it in half with a shovel. In fact, ugly mugs like opossums and snakes can be downright adorable—just check out @beautifulsnakes and @itsmesesame (RIP) on Insta for proof. They’re vital to the ecosystem, too.

11. Thou Shalt Park Your Friggin’ Car 

We certainly understand why cars and trucks circle for that spot next to the door like territorial sharks—it’s hot, yes, and finding an open space feels like finding a lucky penny. But unless you really can’t suck it up and hike the extra block or two—and you probably can—being willing to walk a few extra yards saves everyone time and prevents the walkers from choking on your exhaust fumes.

12. Thou Shalt Talk With Someone Different From You 

We contend that the whole “most diverse city in America” shtick doesn’t mean much if you never interact with someone outside the cul-de-sac. To that end: Nosh on some Nigerian suya (think fancy shish kebab) in Alief and chat up the Houstonian next to you; learn ballet at the Colombian Folkloric Ballet Academy; strike up a conversation with the person beside you also—gasp—waiting for the bus. Simply take opportunities large and small to engage with the tapestry of humanity before you.

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