An Island of Principles

August 20, 2012 by Gabe | [mmd] |

I'm sitting on top of a mountain of principles looking out at the world. My island started small. There were a couple of principles that defined me as a scientist and a friend. Then I made my family the center of my world and added new principles on top of the old. I had a great island. There were no politics. There were no small things. There was just this core of principles that defined me.

As the years have gone by I've added more principles. Many were small and felt insignificant. My principles have piled up and my island has risen like a mountain making every day an effort. Every day I avoid companies that go against my principles. I slog my way up the mountain pretending that I didn't put it there.

I refrain from using Google and will not join Facebook. I avoid Dixie Cups, Walmart and BP. I stopped doing business with predatory banks even when I wasn't their victim. I won't use certain news outlets or TV networks. I won't run certain software even when I need to. My list is longer than I can count, but I put each item on it of my own will. It's all exhausting and self-inflicted. There will be a never ending procession of elephant killers, patent trolls and bigoted chicken cooks in my life making my island bigger. I'm starting to feel like Sisyphus.

There's a phrase that has gained some recent notoriety:

We are what we repeatedly do.

—Aristotle1

I think that's true but we are also what we choose not to do. Every time I take a stand against a social network API change, my rage becomes a little more flaccid. Indignation and outrage is a commodity on the Internet. I need to be careful about how I build my island. Right now I have too many principles to know what I want to believe in but I know I'm not spending my energy on the things that deserve it. My island is not where I want to live anymore. It's time for a bull dozer.


  1. The full quote is "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit." 

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