First Five Principles, 2020

We have to decide how we live our lives. What we value. We also get to decide. And that’s a privilege.

But there’s no amount of “time hacking” or optimization that can work if we are not livingfrom a good foundation.

First principles matter. We can’t build a life without them. They are the things that matter most.

Like, it might be virtuous to work hard. But to not be cruel is more important than how hard you work. Principles have an order.  This is my first attempt at figuring that order out. This is part of my operating system.

Principle #1: Nonviolence

The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.
-John Stuart Mill

In a civilized society, force may be used only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use.
-Ayn Rand

The Principle:

I’ll never initiate any force against anyone else, nor will I take anything from another by force, deceit or fraud.

I’ll never escalate to force or use the threat of force when no similar threats have been made against me.

I won’t use tools of the state to force others to obey when they haven’t committed a crime.

When someone is wrongly using force, we have to defend their victims.

The Case For Nonviolence.

Non-violence is a starting point for being a good human. The gist: I’m not gonna hit you and take your things.

If we’re going to live and love as civilized people. But it’s here that we start because it allows us to think in terms of “what we’re doing to others.”

When someone is a threat to us, we would be free to respond appropriately.

Applied Nonviolence

We have a responsibility to make people feel safe in our presence. Not threatened. That when we feel mad, we’re not capable of escalating things to the point where someone will be physically harmed. We’ve got to be willing to protect people that need us to protect them.

After that, we have to signal that we’re not going to harm anyone. That the threat of harm isn’t a possibility in our presence. That we’d never do that. The words we choose should be chosen, so people feel safe in our presence.


We can take the idea of nonviolence far past the limits our current society supports.

Everything we do has some impact on others. Eating meat, or even driving, puts pollution into the air. So, it’s impossible to live without doing some harm – sometimes real, sometimes hypothetical – to other people or things.

The starting point is human beings. After that, the details matter, but probably less than we think.

Principle #2: Integrity

We can honor our word in one of two ways: first, by keeping our word, and on time; or second, as soon as we know that we won’t keep our word, we inform all parties counting on us to keep our word and clean up any mess that we’ve caused in their lives.

-Michael Jensen

Integrity is a mountain with no top. Therefore those who set off on this task must learn to enjoy climbing because there is no end to the process. And as the climb continues life continues to get better.

-Werner Erhard

The Principle

Integrity is the state of being as we appear. Being united.

A combination of “honesty” and “real.” Not “telling half-truths.”

We have integrity when we are as we appear. When we aren’t “fake” and when we keep our promises and honor our word.

It’s not just about morality, it’s about being congruent. It’s about being what we appear to be.

Integrity includes:

  • Not lying.
  • Keeping commitments
  • Doing what you say you’ll do by the time you say you’ll do it.

A few other things as well, it’s a “we know it when we see it” situation.

The Case For Integrity

What kind of hell would we live in if we simply discarded integrity? If we went to the bakery, paid our fee and then they didn’t do anything for us?

If a financial transaction- sending billions of dollars in minutes couldn’t be trusted, would our markets work?

When we have a world that genuinely offers liberty and justice for all, we have a world where people don’t have to spend energy wondering if they got a fair shake.

Practical Applications

  • We have to tell the truth in every situation.
  • We have to keep our word or honor our word.
  • We show up when we make a commitment.
  • We apply the same standards to our allies that we do to the outside world.

Limitations & Exceptions.

When we’re under the real threat of violence or harm, obviously using deception to free ourselves or protect others is acceptable. It’s not acceptable to use deception to protect someone’s feelings, enhance a relationship or to achieve most aims.

Principle #3: Non-Obstruction

“I don’t like to meddle in my private affairs.”
-Karl Kraus

The Principle

Whenever possible, we will get out of the way, automatically. We won’t take someone else’s time or distract them from their work.

We won’t get between someone and their goals without good reason. Unless someone is being harmed, we will not interfere with the lives of others.

We won’t disrupt other people’s ability to use a public space.

The Case

If everyone would simply “get out of the way” the world would run a little more efficiently. If we would concern ourselves with getting out of the way and ensuring

Practical Applications:

The idea here is to get out of the way of others. It’s not enough to not cause harm, we have to realize that other people matter and so here are some practical uses of the principle of non-obstruction.

  • Staying out of the passing lane unless you’re passing.
  • If two adults want to marry? Cool.
  • If someone wants to be a Scientologist? You do you, boo.
  • Not bantering or doing things to make other people have to wait while you’re in line
  • We don’t lean the seat back on any airplane or play music in public spaces.

Limitations and Exceptions

Sometimes we compete with others: a university application, a job. This can feel like we’re obstructing someone, but we’re in competition; this is part of our work.

Principle #4: Kindness

We are good to others, and we do things to benefit them. We show compassion for other people. We say and do things for the benefit of others – and not ourselves.

We work hard to be there when people need us.

The Principle

Kindness is a little bit harder to define than other principles. It’s in the category of “we know it when we see it.”

It’s the act of offering aid, comfort, or good things to another, usually at some cost to you. It’s not just “being friendly,” which is simple social lubricant, it’s going out of your way, taking care to create an environment that’s actually good for others.

The Case For Kindness

We need people that show up for others. We need people to make our victories sweeter and our losses less heartbreaking. It’s nice to be nice, but it’s very good to be kind.

A world where people are kind to one another looks a lot different than our world. A Capraesque place of warmth and beauty.

What Kindness Looks Like.

Kindness may be the hardest thing to properly describe. We know what “kind” is. It also requires that we respect the boundaries and autonomy of others.

  • When we keep our promises.
  • When we are understanding and acknowledging efforts.
  • When we’re receptive to courtesy even when things go poorly.
  • When we show up and support someone who is taking a risk.
  • When we take time to acknowledge what someone is wearing or doing.
  • When we deescalate things and give others the benefit of the doubt.

Limitations and Exceptions

There’s a big difference between being nice and being kind. Being nice is simply having good manners, greeting people and being friendly. That’s social lubricant.

Being kind is taking the cares of someone else and making them our own.

Other times, people believe kindness requires some sort of self-immolation. That the kind person has to be some sort of sacrificial martyr in order for the kindness to count for anything. They say “I fel guilty about working out,” and things like that. Kindness may sometimes come at a cost, but it never requires us to set everything aside.

Principle #5: Grace

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Romans 3:23, Various Translations.

Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

The Principle

Grace is forgiving someone. Sometimes, even yourself.

We will all screw up sometimes. We hurt others. We fail to meet our own standards.

And others are in the same boat: they fail to meet their own standards. They do things that are unkind.

And, things may never be “even” between people. So we must offer grace to make the world better. We’ll be on both sides of grace at different times in our lives.

The Case for Grace

When we are simply transactional in every situation, we will quickly enter into a world of neverending pettiness. To keep score in all things creates an unenviable position where we won’t win.

And, people will wrong us sometimes. They will do mean things. And if we spend energy trying to “right that wrong” are we getting anything we need to or want to?

We have to forgive because we will need forgiveness for our actions and because keeping score deprives us of love.

What grace looks like.

  • Not expecting people to have the same manners that we have.
  • Forgiving people when they ask.
  • Forgiving people when they don’t.
  • Not requiring someone to grovel.
  • Not holding grudges for long terms.
  • Forgiving people when they don’t ask for it.

Limitations & Exceptions

Sometimes, when someone is guaranteed to forgive us we are prone to abusing their graciousness. It’s easy to do. We have to be wary of this. The cost of not being gracious is worse, but when grace is a given it’s hard for anyone to not abuse that idea.

This is the foundation.

There are certainly many principles and virtues that matter to me.

Humility. Grit. Studiousness. Curiosity. Love. Trust. Loyalty. Respect. All of those things matter, and some of those got careful consideration. I’m not saying that I won’t pursue these principles. What I’ve done, though, is picked principles that fill the gaps in my life, and embodied how I mean to live the rest of my life.

This is how I mean to live the rest of my life. Standards to strive for and return to and a base to build on.

These are the things I believe in today.

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Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is writing this blog. He's a startup veteran, having built a company called Simplifilm. This blog is about things that he's starting to - but may not actually - think yet. It publishes irregularly.
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