Definition – The impulse to continue in a particularly positive or personally meaningful activity despite the conscious knowledge that the activity would only continue to be positive or meaningful if others continued in it as well.
The Story – When I was twelve, I went on a cruise with my family. During the vacation, I’d met up with a nice group of kids my own age whom I quickly became good friends with. At the end of the week, when we were disembarking, I said to my family, “I wish we could stay on the cruise ship.” My dad pointed out, quite rightly, that what I really wanted was to spend more time with these friends, and so that wish wouldn’t work unless they all stayed on the cruise ship as well. It was at that point that I realized the pleasure I took in certain activities was largely dependent on those with whom I had shared the experience, and continuing them on my own would not have sufficed. Thus, the Cruise Ship Principle was born.
The lesson that I learned that day, the fact that staying on the cruise ship would do me no good if my friends weren’t there to enjoy it with me, is applicable in a number of other situations. I experienced it again at the end of college. Certainly, the thought of graduating from college and starting the next step of my life and education was pretty daunting in and of itself. Still, that little twinge of “I wish I could stay in college” had significantly more to do with the friendships and relationships I had formed while at the university and a desire to keep them going. I soon realized that even supposing I could stay, to rack up another major or commit to some further study, my friends would soon be leaving themselves, and what I was attempting to hold onto would be gone too.
I’m facing the same sort of sentiment right now in my last semester of law school. There’s a part of me that strongly wants all of this to continue, but there’s another part that realizes what makes this experience worthwhile for me are the people I share it with. Soon, everyone here will graduate and scatter as well. The exploits of Van Wilder notwithstanding, I have to imagine that attending year after year of college or law school without all my friends would become pretty sad pretty quickly.
Accordingly, the Cruise Ship Principle applies best in those situations that are the not “the end” but rather just “end of an era.” There will be other cruises, and (I hope) other classes to come through the doors of my various schools, but while the ships and buildings I spent time in will still be there, the part of the equation that meant the most won’t be. Still, for whatever reason, there’s always that little impulse to stick around.