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No. Being Principled is Not Selfish.

A strange thing sometimes happens when I promote the idea of acting on principle rather than in accordance with the rules of social acceptability.

Some people on the Internet respond with such things as; “Life isn’t all about you and what you want!”

My first reaction was to think; ‘That’s odd. I didn’t remotely suggest that it was.’

…but now I’ve come to realise that some of these people don’t actually understand the difference — the distinction — between being principled and being selfish and just doing what you want.

Let me be clear: The people I’m referring to aren’t merely saying that some people pretend to be acting on principle, whilst they’re actually just being selfish. If that’s all they were saying, I’d agree with them.

And it isn’t just that they deny that any real people ever act on principle, rather than out of conformism or selfishness. It is that they do not even comprehend the concept of principled behaviour.

To such people, ‘acting on principle’ actually means ‘being selfish.’

In many cases, I believe, they’re so conformist, so concerned with what other people might think of them and so caught up in fitting in, that fitting in comes first and foremost in their minds, pretty much the whole time. They don’t understand people who act on principle — and they don’t really want to understand them.

They live in fear of being unpopular and of being shunned. They’re imprisoned by this fear and resentful of people who aren’t.

So, instead of believing that principled people are people with the intelligence and strength of character to stand apart from the crowd, they prefer to believe that principled people are actually just being inconsiderate and selfish.

When someone says they have decided something as a matter of principle, they interpret that as, ‘I’m going to do what I want and I don’t care what other people think/feel/say about it!’ They don’t understand the idea that a principled person may want to do one thing, but actually do the opposite, out of principle.

They understand conforming; doing what is acceptable to others. They understand the idea of doing what you selfishly want to do. But the idea of assessing what you should do by considering the ethical rights and wrongs of the various options — that’s fundamentally alien to them.

They see ‘being principled’ as being awkward and not listening to other people. They genuinely don’t see — or don’t allow themselves to see — what it really means.

Some people aren’t just unprincipled. They’ve never even understood what ‘acting on principle’ actually refers to.