Making Exceptions “Just Once” is a Slippery Slope

Making Exceptions Just Once is a Slippery Slope

Keeping Our Commitments Unwaveringly is Tough

The Harvard business strategy professor Clayton Christensen (of The Innovator’s Dilemma (1997) fame) often tells a story from his college days when he played basketball for his university team. His team worked hard all season and made it to the finals of some big tournament. The championship game was scheduled on a Sunday.

Christensen is a pious Mormon. Playing on the Sabbath (the “seventh day” is holy occasion and has a particular purpose, i.e. rest and spiritual renewal) was against his religious beliefs. The basketball team’s coach asked Christensen to break the rule for that big game, “I don’t know what you believe, but I believe that God will understand.” His teammates prodded him, “You’ve got to play. Can’t you break the rule, just this one time?”

Christensen prayed to God for guidance. After some reflection, he concluded that he would not play in the finals because he did not want to violate the Mormon way of life and break his personal rules: “Because life is just one unending stream of extenuating circumstances. Had I crossed the line that one time, I would have done it over and over and over in the years that followed.”

Willpower is Character in Action

Christensen’s team, however, played without him and won the basketball championship.

'How Will You Measure Your Life' by Clayton M. Christensen (ISBN 0062102419) Discussing this experience in writings such as How Will You Measure Your Life? (2012,) Christensen says,

Many of us have convinced ourselves that we are able to break our own personal rules “just this once.” In our minds, we can justify these small choices. None of those things, when they first happen, feels like a life-changing decision. The marginal costs are almost always low. But each of those decisions can roll up into a much bigger picture, turning you into the kind of person you never wanted to be.

If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal-cost analysis, you’ll regret where you end up. That’s the lesson I learned: it’s easier to hold to your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold to them 98 percent of the time. The boundary—your personal moral line—is powerful because you don’t cross it; if you have justified doing it once, there’s nothing to stop you doing it again.

For Christenson, the opportunity cost of missing the championship game was large. Therefore, the marginal cost of breaking his rules “just this once” was comparatively trivial. However, the bigger damage of yielding to demands of the circumstances was larger yet, given his religious devotion.

Idea for Impact: Life becomes so much simpler if you decide what you stand for, stick with your values 100% the time, and make no exceptions.

It’s easy to lose your emotional footing and resist temptations, especially when you feel pressured or depressed, or face some other persuasive incentive.

It’s easy to unearth some justification to infringe a little upon your principles or break commitments you’ve made to yourself.

However, conceding “just once” is a slippery slope—the proverbial thin end of a wedge. If you allow yourself to compromise just the once, you can wind up doing it frequently.

In contrast, if you make up your mind to follow 100% on some standard, all of your prospective decisions are made.

Life becomes so much easier when you no longer need to expend your willpower on internal moral deliberations or justify/ regret your poor choices.

Don’t Reject Your Spiritual Traditions Altogether in Favor of Another

Don't Reject Your Spiritual Traditions Altogether in Favor of Another All over the world, organized religion is on a protracted decline. However, in Western societies, Buddhism is one of the fastest growing “religions” in terms of new converts.

In these Western societies, many people take to Buddhism because of the appeal of meditation and the substantial self-help benefits attributed to persistent meditative practice. Some Neo-Buddhists are motivated enough to warm up slowly but surely to the fact that Buddhism is much more than mere meditation. They come to understand that the Buddhist way of life is atheistic and emphasizes ethics. They draw inspiration from the realization that they alone are responsible for their own attitudes, intentions, decisions, actions, and behaviors. As University of St. Thomas’s Stephen Laumakis wrote in An Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy,

The single most important or most basic insight of the historical Buddha is the claim that who we are and what we think exists is a function of our mind and its cognitive powers. In other words, it is our mind and our uses of it that determine how we see and understand our self, the world, and other things.

On the other hand, some new Buddhist practitioners have misgivings especially as regards the religious or esoteric philosophical aspects of Buddhism. They continue to seek and practice meditation techniques in a secular, non-Buddhist context.

Buddhism has never sought strength in number of adherents

As I have mentioned in my previous article, Buddhism is more of a philosophy of life—a “spiritual practice”—than a religion in the Abrahamic sense.

When Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, and other prominent Buddhist teachers started teaching Buddhism in the West during the ’80s, they did not intend to establish a beachhead. Rather, they intended to help educate enthusiasts and help Westerners return, with renewed spirit, to their own religions. In Teachings on Love, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote:

'Teachings on Love' by Thich Nhat Hanh (ISBN 1888375000) Many Westerners attracted to Buddhist practice have abandoned their own spiritual traditions. They reject the churches and clergy of their own traditions because they feel constricted and uncomfortable with the attitudes and practices they have encountered there. They have suffered within their own tradition and so have sought another. They approach Buddhist practice with the hope of replacing their own tradition and may wish to break away from their own tradition forever.

According to Buddhist wisdom, such wishing is in vain. A person severed from her own culture and traditions is like a tree pulled out by the roots. Such a person will find it hard to be happy. Buddhist practice can offer effective means to heal, reconcile, and reunite with one’s blood and spiritual families, in order to discover the precious gems in one’s own traditions. Thanks to the practice, people will see that Buddhism and their own spiritual tradition have many things in common, and therefore it is not necessary to reject their own spiritual tradition. They will see that there are things that need to be transformed in Buddhism as well as in their own tradition.

Idea for Impact: Forcefully rejecting one’s religious, spiritual, or cultural tradition in favor of another is not conducive to happiness and peace of mind. Buddhism encourages the Neo-Buddhists to employ insights from their Buddhist practices to find what may have been previously overlooked in their long-established beliefs.

Why I Don’t Drink Alcohol

Drunken Man During my travels, I am asked why I don’t drink alcohol more often than I am asked why I am lacto-vegetarian. I do not even consume food and desserts that use cooking wine or liqueur to enhance flavors.

Deep inside, my abstention from alcohol might perhaps be a subliminal sense of superiority that comes from always being in control of my senses.

Long ago, I determined that the most eloquent justification I could provide for why I am a teetotaler is by merely quoting an adaptation of the fifth precept from Pancasila, the Buddhist code of basic ethics. The fifth percept calls for practitioners to abstain from intoxicants, liquor, and drugs that confuse the mind and cause heedlessness and a lack of restraint. (To be precise, the original Buddhist texts in Pali call for abstention from three fermented drinks in vogue in ancient India.)

Health Benefits?

One assertion that I hear often is that red wine is supposed to have health benefits and that antioxidants in red wine may help prevent heart disease. Research has focused on an antioxidant called resveratrol. Studies done so far on animals—not on humans—propose that resveratrol might fight cholesterol, avoid damage to the blood vessels, and inhibit blood clots. The resveratrol in red wine comes from the skin of grapes. The higher content of resveratrol in red wine (vis-à-vis white wine) comes from a lengthier fermentation cycle involving the skin of red grapes. Therefore, my counter argument is that I gain all the associated health benefits by simply eating grapes and drinking grape juice.

The Drunkard's Progress: From The First Glass To The Grave

Extra: “From The First Glass To The Grave”

Many people wonder, “Do I drink too much?” and consider the consequences of drinking too much alcohol. “The Drunkard’s Progress: From The First Glass To The Grave” by Nathaniel Currier is a well-known lithograph from the temperance movement of the 19th century. See more temperance posters from that era at the Pictorial Americana collection from the Library of Congress.