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The power and perils of principles

“The person who knows the principles of life and observes them has a strong foundation in life.” 
-Sunday Adelaja


I love principles. I love rules. I love great guidelines. 

Good principles to follow allow for a powerful sense of ease and effectiveness. 

Downsides to principles

Nevertheless, there can be many, often huge downsides to principles. 

Principles by faith or default

Many principles are not well-thought-out or tested. They have been accepted without clearly knowing their purpose and their possible exceptions. A common example is, "Never give up." 

Principles that blind us

Another downside is that we become attached to our principles, often blinding ourselves to the costs, to ourselves and others, of following a given principle. An example is, "Always tell the truth." 

Principles to make us "feel right"

A third downside, similar to the second one, is that we become righteous about our principles. This separates us from others who may not share the same principles or the same interpretation of how the principles should be applied. Additionally, righteousness, like the confirmation bias, will blind us to discovering and addressing any risks and costs that our principles are incurring. An example is, "Adultery is wrong." 

Principles without context

A fourth downside is that, even though we may be clear about the intended function of a given principle, we don't clearly contextualize it or consider the circumstances under which the principle may not apply. An example, "Always keep your word with others." 


Principles not vetted for risk

A fifth downside is that we don't fully account for the risk that the principle, even when well-designed and well-executed, will sometimes not create the intended results. For example, "If you want something, ask for it." 

Principles that ignore cost and risk

A sixth downside is that a principle often focuses on attaining certain specific results. Following these unalloyed principles may create costs in others areas. Has the principle been designed to consider other relevant costs, risks, and benefits that following that principle may impact? An example, "Always buy the less expensive item." 

Principles that ignore the needs of Now

A seventh downside is that principles are often designed without considering the importance of what our Now, that part of us that just wants to be happy now, wants and needs and how willing our Now is likely to react if he or she is not enjoying the process of abiding by a given principle. As such, these principles seed their own difficulty in being applied appropriately and consistently. 

Principles poorly applied

A final downside is neglecting to recognize that the execution of a principle is just as important, sometimes more important, than the principle itself. A poorly executed principle may be worse than no principle at all. An example is, "Listen to people first," where "listening" makes you seem like a poker-faced robot. 

Viva la principles!

Principles are great. Make sure you only follow great principles, always ready to modify a given principle if you find that it is suffering from one or more of the above downsides.

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