Real character development begins with the humble recognition that we are not in charge, that principles ultimately govern. I don’t talk much about ethics and values because to me those words imply situational behaviors, subjective beliefs, social mores, cultural norms, or relative truths. I prefer to talk about universal principles and natural laws that are more absolute. You may think that it’s just a matter of semantics and that when most people talk about values they really mean these universal principles. But I see a clear difference between principles and values. Hitler was value-driven; Saddam Hussein is value-driven. Every person and organization is driven by what they value, but they aren’t necessarily ethical or principle-centered.
The Humility of Principles
The key to quality of life is to be centered on principles. We’re not in control; principles are in control. We’re arrogant when we think we are in control. Yes, we may control our actions, but not the consequences of our actions. Those are controlled by principles, by natural laws. Building character and creating quality of life is a function of aligning our beliefs and behaviors with universal principles. These principles are impersonal, external, factual, objective, and self-evident. They operate regardless of our awareness of them, or our obedience to them.
If your current lifestyle is not in alignment with these principles, then you might trade a value-based map for a principle-centered compass. When you recognize that external verities and realities ultimately govern, you might willingly subordinate your values to them and align your roles and goals, plans, and activities with them. But doing so often takes a crisis: your company’s downsizing; your job’s on the line; your relationship with the boss goes sour; you lose a major account; your marriage is threatened; your financial problems peak; or you’re told you have just a few months to live. In the absence of such a catalytic crisis, we tend to live in numbed complacency so busy doing good, easy, or routine things that we don’t even stop to ask ourselves if we’re doing what really matters. The good, then, becomes the enemy of the best.
Humility is the Mother of all Virtues
The humble in spirit progress and are blessed because they willingly submit to higher powers and try to live in harmony with natural laws and universal principles. Courage is the father of all virtues; we need great courage to lead our lives by correct principles and to have integrity in the moment of choice. When we set up our own self-generated or socially-validated value systems and then develop our missions and goals based on what we value, we tend to become laws unto ourselves, proud and independent. Pride hopes to impress; humility seeks to bless. Just because we value a thing doesn’t mean that having it will enhance our quality of life. No “quality movement” in government, business, or education will succeed unless based on “true north” principles. And yet we see leaders who cling to their current style based on self-selected values and bad habits even as their “ship” is sinking when they could be floating safely on the life raft of principles.
Nothing sinks people faster in their careers than arrogance. Arrogance shouts “I know best.” In the uniform of arrogance, we fumble and falter – pride comes and goes before the fall. But dressed in humility, we make progress. As the character Indiana Jones learned in The Last Crusade, “The penitent man will pass.” In pride, we often sow one thing and expect to reap another. Many of our paradigms and the processes and habits that grow out of them never produce the results we expect because they are based on illusions, advertising slogans, program-of-the-month training, and personality-based success strategies. Quality of life can’t grow out of illusion. So how do we align our lives with “true north” realities that govern quality of life?
Stay tuned for part II of this article…
About the Author:
Dr. Covey currently serves on the board of directors for the Points of Light Foundation. Based in Washington, D.C., the Foundation, through its partnership with the Volunteer Center National Network, engages and mobilizes millions of volunteers from all walks of life – businesses, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, low-income communities, families, youth, and older adults – to help solve serious social problems in thousands of communities.
It will look like this: Quality of Life Starts With The Humility of Principles