Are your principles guiding you toward your best self or holding you back?
There was a scene in a popular Hollywood movie a couple years back where a central figure was asked to reject his beliefs in order to spare his life — a life that he had dedicated to those beliefs. To the dismay of many watchers and his followers, he chose to spare his life and reject his principles. While this may seem logical to some, it’s a harder pill to swallow for those of strong faith or beliefs.
That film was Silenceby Martin Scorsese. As the title suggests, too often the outcome of holding too rigidly to our principles is we become silent.As a person of principle and value, I believe having a strong foothold of both provides us with a moral compass that guides our decisions and actions, and contributes to the wellbeing of our society.
But, when is it time to put these principles and values aside?
All to often we insert ourselves into situations where we find ourselves saying: I have to. I have to go that party, I have to invite this person; I have to stay in this relationship. But there is a big difference between obligation and principle, and what we often label as obligation is usually the later. There are very few things we are obligated to, and they involve basic human necessities. The rest, we commit ourselves to out of principle.
I believe when our principals become constrictive, it’s time to bench them — to put them aside and let them sit on the sidelines while others take the wheel.
When principals that should be the foundation of our wellbeing begin to rob us of joy, perhaps we need to re-evaluate their place.
I’ve spent a lot of time in toxic relationships and toxic situations, as a matter of principle. Fighting too hard and pouring too much of myself into areas of my life that I felt should look differently, if they were truly being governed by my principles.
For years I stayed in a toxic marriage because of my principles: my commitment to my vows and my belief that marriage was forever. Despite the fact that this relationship was repressing me, I stayed in order to maintain and hold true to my principles. As a consequence, I disrespected myself by staying in a situation and relationship where I wasn’t able to be of service. That lack of self-respect was mirrored back to me and the cycle of mistreatment was further perpetrated.
My principles kept me caged, confined to a bad situation, and further diminishing my sense of self-worth.To reclaim my sense of self-worth and re-establish respect — both self-respect and respect from others — I needed to toss my principles and beliefs that I had grown up with my entire life.
Our society is on the crux of a massive shift. Men and women of strong principal and will are leading the charge. But we need to practice the discernment to know when we are becoming a martyr to our cause. The world needs our light more than ever, but we need to acknowledge the impact of being removed from this movement by holding too tightly to our principles.
And so, I’m reminded of the following quote by Danielle Laporte: Do you want to be right, or do you want to be free?
I relate this to our ability to pick our battles, in our relationships and our environments. Our principles can take us far, but they can become a cage if we let them. Every decision can be whittled down to a matter of principle about where your time and energy are truly of service.
- The equality of men and women.
- The safety of our LGBTQ community.
- The fight to end racial divides.
- Gun control and the safety of our children.
All of these matters are of great importance and principle. So is the matter of principle about whether or not your spouse is lying about having finished the box of Oreos. We need to weigh our principles against the impact on our lives and the lives of those around us. This is a matter of discernment.
But when do we need to toss our principles?
Some principles will need to sit on the sidelines for a few matches while we conquer issues of greater importance. Others will need to be trashed, burned, and reborn as we grow and evolve. The beliefs and principles taught to us as children may be widely different from those that govern our decisions later in life. Some will need to be deconstructed to bring them closer to our core values. Others rebuilt from their separate parts so that they take on new meaning.
Had I stayed in toxic relationships and situations out of principle, it would have prevented me from stepping into my purpose of being of service to others. I would have denied myself the healing required to connect with others in pain.
Where do your principles allow you to be of service and contribute to a greater cause, whether a personal cause or societal one? And where do they hold you back? Where are they restrictive or robbing you of joy? Where are they obscuring meaning in your life?
When our principles make us self-righteous, we are of service to no one, including ourselves. We can easily become a victim of circumstance when we cling too tightly to our principles, most of which were taught to us or passed down as part of a family pathology. And so I ask you: Where are your principles no longer being of service?
You may also enjoy reading The Most Common Happiness Mistake and the Secret to Greater Joy, by Sara Fabian