21 May 2014

The Hexham Principle

"If you commit to a course, stay that course to its end."

 This is not a new thought. As a heuristic it seems a tad trite, even old hat, so I have neglected to date to make any attempts to re-articulate it in writing. A recent lunch with some old uni mates breathed some new life into it however, as we fondly reminisced on its origins in our small circle. The tale of this old principle's re-genesis as the "Hexham Principle" seems worth repeating so it might not be entirely lost to posterity.

Back in around April of 1979 two car loads of 4 uni students each set out from Sydney to drive to Crescent Head on the New South Wales north coast for a week's holiday. Each car had 4 passengers and it was decided to drive up in semi convoy so we would reduce the chances of getting lost. This was well before mobile phones and GPS navigators. The trip was expected to take 5 or 6 hours. The plan agreed to as we loaded up the cars, a Beetle and a Mazda, was "let's make the first stop the Oak milk bar at Hexham if we lose each other on the way up". And so we set off through the heavy traffic up the Pacific Highway through Sydney's north shore. After the convoy left the Newcastle expressway at about Wyong, the Beetle veered left at a turn and headed North inland whilst the Mazda sailed on without following keeping a heading towards Newcastle. The convoy had been broken. This was immediately commented on in both cars. In the Beetle there were pleas to turn back and follow the Mazda, but the driver stuck to the route declaring that "Hexham was the agreed first stop and to Hexham this car is going". Meanwhile in the Mazda there were also questions put to the driver that the car should turn back and follow the Beetle, to which the driver responded "Hexham is where we agreed to meet, so Hexham is where we are going." And so it was that each car, by its own route, converged about an hour later on the Oak milk bar in Hexham. There was much fanfair and joshing about the route choice the other car had made, but with a consensus that, by each car sticking to the plan to meet at Hexham, the holiday was on track and we were on course to a fine holiday. And a fine holiday, with many fond memories, it proved to be too.

And thereafter, if any of that group have seemed in the eyes of another to be wavering in sticking to a task, they have been exhorted by the others to "remember Hexham". And so the legend of that journey morphed over time into the "Hexham Principle"

There have been some glosses on the Hexham principle experimented with over the years. The most recent of these is the suggestion that by committing to a choice and staying with it, a person often obtains the benefit of self-fulfillment from the power of owning that choice. This seems to apply even if, by others' lights, the choice seems wrong. By buying into your choice, you make your choice work for you. Sure, this has more than a flavour of pop psych, but it still is potentially a useful tool for navigating a world in which the array of potential choices facing young people is now almost infinite.

It might be a powerful thing to teach and learn such a heuristic in a world in which you can do almost anything you decide to put your mind to. It is not now how to do something that limits someone these days. It's what to do at all, that seems to limit so many. If a person can learn to self affirm a choice by buying into what the act of chosing itself gives them, they are less likely to be crippled by indecision in the face of the vast array of undifferentiated opportunities.

And so it is that I have now followed through on my commitment to my friends at lunch to write up the Hexham Principle. It works.

Remember Hexham!

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