Four Principles for Living

This article is my first real attempt to nail down some of the basic principles that I use to guide my life. After seeing this presentation by Scott McCloud, I couldn't help but usurp his four principles on vision for myself.

  1. Learn from everyone
  2. Follow no one
  3. Look for patterns
  4. Work like hell

I knew I had to modify Scott's four principles to be more relevant for me and my circumstance, life and beliefs. So I came up with some new ones based on his.

  1. Respect and learn from everyone
  2. Follow no one
  3. Look for patterns
  4. Remain hardcore

Now let us go through and take a tour of these 4 principles and what they mean to me.

Respect and Learn from Everyone

I consciously added the word respect because that's centrally important to my life like an ongoing lifetime education is. Without the word respect at the beginning of this principle we lose the central element that must exist in any student teacher relationship. If there is no respect between learner and learnee than there can be no learning. Plus, respecting your fellow humans is just good practice.

It's important that this principle come first. Learning and growing are so vitally important for life and those people we learn from are the ones who deserve our respect the most. And when I say everyone I literally mean everyone. Even those we hate and those who force us to question our very moral fiber have something to teach us and deserve our respect. Maybe all we learn is that we should never emulate some person's behavior or that viewing a dark corner of ourselves causes intense fear and anxiety. But we are still students and they are still teachers. And maybe the only thing we can find to respect in someone is that we share common biological material and DNA ancestry. But even mass murderers deserve to be respected as human beings.

Follow no one

The first part of this principle is that taking the road less traveled ala Robert Frost leads to an enriching and full life. Taking the road less traveled brings greater risk and possibly greater reward or ruin in life. But it's absolutely necessary to living a rich and fulfilling life. We might not achieve the ends set by our earlier lofty expectations but I promise the ride will be much more enjoyable. I realize that not everyone in this world can take the road less traveled. Otherwise we would either split evenly down both roads or trample the metaphorical flowers as we all attempted to avoid the path. But it's a principle of my life that when I am given a choice of which road to take I try and take the more interesting one. And that more interesting one is typically the one that is least traveled.

The second part of this principle is a belief that there is no person, dogma, paradigm or methodology that has the answer for everything. Rarely does a single methodology, idea or paradigm fit more than one domain well. We explore one domain or discipline well with a given paradigm but once we remove ourselves from that domain and apply the same methodology to a new one we feel it slipping. The old paradigm or methodology is no longer suited for the new problem domain. And as we go through the motions that this methodology requires of us we get further and further away from actual understanding of the domain. Sometimes it just feels wrong. At this point we need to step back and reevaluate the method we used to reach these conclusions. Maybe we need to pick another paradigm to use or another methodology to follow. Something new that will align better with the new problem domain.

The same can be said for the leaders we choose to follow. There is no one leader that can lead us in every aspect of our lives. In different areas of our lives we need different leaders or role models specific to that area. Religious leaders usually make bad political leaders or they make good political leaders for the wrong reasons. Industrialists shouldn't be in charge of providing moral guidance for us. And it's not just because of the methodologies, faiths and dogmas that these leaders convey. The leaders themselves are the medium that is more important than the message and their very fabric is typically not suited for multiple domains. Few revolutionaries make good governors and revolutions find it hard to transition from struggling against a common enemy to governing in peacetime. Because the new role of peacetime governor requires a new leader.

Look for Patterns

Humanity is on a never ending quest to understand our world and every culture on the planet has developed basic assumptions to to help them explain our world. Being a westerner and a scientist I use the methodology of scientific inspection and empiricism to understand the world around me most of the time. It's not perfect but it's what I'm most comfortable with and until something better comes along I'm gonna stick with it. There are limits to empiricism that I don't want to go into here. Suffice it to say I rely on interpretations of empirical data to form most of my understanding about the world.

So how do we get to understanding from empirical data? In order for an idea to be understood it must first be conceptualized. And to kickstart the process of conceptualization we can look for patterns around us. By looking for and hopefully finding patterns we begin to develop a language that will form the basis of our understanding of a phenomenon.

Look for patterns in everything!
You want to find how some random grouping of numbers relate. Look for patterns in the numbers.
You want to stop dating assholes. Look for patterns in your dating habits.
You want to understand which stock to buy. Look for patterns in historical stock market data.
You want to stop feeling like shit on Monday morning. Look at what you do every weekend.
You want to develop a theory that explains quantum behavior of really small particles. Smash small particles together and look for patterns in what comes out.

Keep an open mind while looking for patterns and look for them everywhere. If you do it enough in one area you might be able to predict what will happen next. What the next element of the pattern should be. At that point you should quickly capture the pattern you have found and communicate it to someone else. Do so messily and without all that much forethought at first. Just grab your best friend or colleague and sit down with them over coffee and hash out what you think you know and understand. If they know you or your work they should then offer insight that will hopefully shock you. There will probably be some corner case that you didn't consider. If you're lucky they will show you how the pattern you have discovered can explain more than you thought it could originally. At this point they have understood your pattern and started to improve it. You are now the student and they are the teacher. Brainstorm and listen and learn from each other.

Some people would question putting communicate before understanding. But that was a very conscious choice. Life has taught me that I don't really understand anything before I am able to communicate it. And that once I have communicated something others are then able to guide me to a better understanding of it. We are social animals and we rarely arrive at a perfect answer ourselves. Use those around you to bounce ideas off of and better understand your initial reflections. If you're lucky they will use you for the same thing.

Remain Hardcore

I've consciously changed Scott's 'Work like Hell' to 'Remain Hardcore'. Hopefully I've preserved most of his original intention in doing so but I needed to make this more relevant to me. Since I don't view 'work' to be so centrally important in my life to designate a rule for itself I had to remove 'work'. Work for me is a time. I have work time and play time. If I only work like hell during my work time than it isn't central enough for me to include in my four principles. While 'Remain Hardcore' transcends both work and play time for me so its relevancy is greater. I've consciously chosen the word 'remaining' instead of 'be' not only because it provides more emphasis but because it doesn't designate a state change from something else to hardcore. Moving into a hardcore state is much simpler than remaining hardcore. It's like quitting an addiction. It's much easier to start to stop than to maintain abstinence.

People that know me well know I'm a huge fan of hardcore music. I love bands such as Hatebreed, Minor Threat, Mad Ball, Black Flag, The Casualties and the list goes on. But I didn't give the final principle in my list of four to a musical genre. Remain Hardcore means more to me than just a type of music. Hardcore to me is a way of life and an attitude towards experiencing and interacting with people and things around me. It says don't take 'maybe' for an answer. Push yourself and your goals to their limits and and then push a little more. Mediocrity is not an option. If you say you are going to do something than do it and don't be a coward. Bare yourself to the world if that's what it takes to get your point across. Don't focus on falling down but instead focus on getting up after the fall. In your work don't take the easy way out by cutting corners or half finishing things. If you set out to do something than do it well. Otherwise don't do it at all. Sleep well at night knowing that the people you have harmed deserved pain while the people you have loved deserved your love.