Friday, April 9, 2010

The Principles of Principles

Principles. Miriam Webster defines the word Principle as:

Main Entry: prin·ci·ple
Pronunciation: \ˈprin(t)-s(ə-)pəl, -sə-bəl\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French principe, principle, from Old French, from Latin principium beginning, from princip-, princeps initiator — more at prince
Date: 14th century

1 a : a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption b (1) : a rule or code of conduct (2) : habitual devotion to right principles (a man of principle) c : the laws or facts of nature underlying the working of an artificial device defines the word Principle as: accepted or professed rule of action or conduct: a person of good moral principles.

5.guiding sense of the requirements and obligations of right conduct: a person of principle.

I am only going to focus on these specific definitions as principles relating to things like science and math aren't the definitions I am talking about (hence there only being specific definitions quoted here).

Defining your principles

Growing up I remember being confused about the concept of my own morals and principles. I remember thinking to myself: what are my principles? What base concepts have I assigned value to in a way that I could consider them my principles? As I gained knowledge from experiences I had, I began to develop and refine and acknowledge my own set of principles that I felt good about. These principles guide me in my life every day, and help me make decisions that I would otherwise have trouble making. I value my principles more than anything else, and am adamant in sticking to those principles.

Having no principles

When I come across someone who either has no strong principles or doesn't actively adhere to any specific principles, it bothers me a great deal. Likewise when a person flaunts behaviors of someone who holds to no particular set of values or principles, I find it very difficult to trust them. Trust to me is very important (I think it's safe to say it is one of the most widely-accepted traits that people value). If I meet someone, or see someone I know exhibiting behaviors akin to someone of no principles, I no longer feel like that person has any set of rules with which to govern themselves in their life. If that is true (or even remotely possible for that person), how can I trust that I, too, am not one of the mediocre landmarks in their blind stumbles through life?

What lack of principles can look like

Let's use an example, to help illustrate this point. I know someone of so little moral standing that I have cut this person completely out of my life. Let's call this person Elizabeth. Elizabeth lives her life to please all of her immediate desires. She cares little for those who get hurt in the process, or how her actions affect others. When I made the decision to cut Elizabeth out of my life, I did so after years of deliberation and stalling. It didn't used to be easy for me to recognize a cancerous influence in my life, and make the decision to remove the proverbial tumor. Those around me knew and generally agreed with my decision and saw the change it made almost instantly on my personal well-being. I moved on, and tried to reflect on the decision with the reassurance of my principles.

Elizabeth didn't. Elizabeth is still living her life with questionable principles, and continues to cause pain to those around her.

The kicker is this: Elizabeth is not the only Elizabeth I know. I have known many over the years. And what never fails to amaze me is how accepting and forgiving those around them seem to be about their behavior. 

What types of behaviors do these Elizabeths (both men and women) display? Actions I find under questionable principles include conniving, manipulative lies and rumors, being unfaithful or disloyal to those around them, shallow, self-centered and judgmental commentary and passive aggressive dramatic tantrums.

Are principles a dying trend?

What is most remarkable is these types of people rarely hide it from anyone... yet they are often surrounded by people who either simply don't care that they are that kind of person, or choose to be blind to these behaviors.

I'm often curious why so many people surround themselves with these types of people and actively ignore their worst behaviors. Is it for the sake of being surrounded by people; no matter the content of their character? Is it to help boost that person's own self-esteem; to know that they are of stronger moral fiber than Elizabeth?

Are those with strict principles a rare breed of person who can take a stand and stay there? Are we a dying breed of person who has values and principles without the guilt or pressure of religious tenets? Or are these Elizabeths a dysfunctional genetic glitch who refuse to live by anyone's rules; including their own?

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