The Nature of Principles
A person’s life is, in its totality, a large structure made of small decisions. We are called upon each day to make choices; often with so little awareness of what will come of them, we’re functionally choosing at random. When it comes to particularly high-stakes decisions, we’re further blinded by emotionality. In times like these, our mind is like a stormy sea, everything is unsteady, and, as soon as we believe we’ve found our footing atop a firm decision, a wave of doubt crashes over us. When lost and looking for something to hold fast to, we can only put faith in our principles.
When we look only to the needs of the hour, we are sure to be ruined in a year. The power of principles is found in the nature of their gestation. Principles are formed over the course of years, in our times of fullest lucidity, when free from emotionality and distraction. They are developed outside of the narrow caverns of daily context and under the open sky of timelessness. These are the sturdiest and most ageless rules. They exist with the implication of a full recognition of the broadest context.
Though the particulars of a situation will suggest this or that course of action, serving to confuse us and incentivizing us to go against our instincts, principles exist beyond the isolated specifics of the moment, and they give us something sturdy to hold onto when we are whipped about by the tempests of life.
History judges our actions with a clarity that is unattainable in the present. In the present, we are persuaded by the invisible influences of the zeitgeist, pulled by the needs of the moment, and futilely trying to presage the consequences of our actions, hidden though they are in the haze of an unknowable future. Principles are how we escape the present and see through the eyes of tomorrow. Having been formed in the widest context, and established as rules to be followed independent of particulars, they are freest from the blinding and binding pressures of the present.
On every occasion, when we are faced with impossible decisions, and the scale of our mind is equally counterbalanced with reasons for pursuing two diverging paths, let us put our faith in those unbreakable cords — formed by us and our ancestors in years and centuries past, and which are to be inherited by endless generations to follow — our principles of justice, mercy, honor, kindness, and strength.
Martin Vidal is the author of The Ambition Handbook: A Guide for Ambitious Persons