In the previous draft, we talked about the implications of keeping alternative centers such as work, self, pleasure, etc., at the center of our lives.
Now, for the second draft in this three-part series, let’s talk about operating from a clear center from which we derive our security, guidance, wisdom, and power. That comes from centering our lives on correct principles.
Principles are universal truths that are self evident. They are bigger than us and our circumstances. They always work. They are like lighthouses; they stay put. Principles don’t change, but our understanding of them over time does. They are not merely here one day, gone the next. They are not dependent on external factors such as others’ behaviors or the environment. The more we learn about them, the more we are able to focus our lens through which we see the world.
While we are free to choose our actions (based on the knowledge of correct principles), we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions. This is consistent with teachings from the Gita, which says you are only truly entitled to your actions but never to the outcomes. There are positive consequences of living in harmony with the principles, and negative consequences when we ignore them.
Principles are universal truths based on natural laws. While our values govern our behaviors, principles govern the consequences of those behaviors. While values may vary from person to person, principles will always remain constant in the universe. In other words, even though we may have different values, they are governed by the same principles.
Principles are not values. While values are the maps, principles are the territory. The ideal is to always value the correct principles. The degree to which we recognize and live in harmony with principles determines if we’re moving toward living a principle-centered life or away from it.
When we put principles at the center of our lives, it puts all other centers in perspective. When we are principle-centered, our sense of security is based on principles that remain unchanged regardless of external events. They can be repeatedly affirmed in our lives by virtue of our experiences. We are guided by a compass by which we can see where we are headed and how we can get there.
We are able to be more objective in our situations and look at things as a gestalt. In terms of wisdom, we see the world in terms of how we can contribute to it. We are able to see, think, and act differently from the largely reactive world. We lead a more proactive life. The decisions we make and actions we take are not driven by the circumstances in our life. We make sense of life’s experiences in terms of learning and contribution. We operate with a high degree of self awareness and proaction unaffected by the attitudes, behaviors, and actions of others.
In his book, Covey illustrates this by sharing an everyday example of a specific problem as seen through different centers. He talks about a guy who works in an office. He has promised his wife to take her to the concert tonight; they have tickets. Before the end of his work day, his boss calls him into his office to have him stay through the evening and get ready for an early meeting the following morning. What does he do?
As you read, put on a pair of glasses and try to feel his response coming from the different centers.
If he is looking through spouse-centered glasses, his main concern would be his wife. He could tell the boss he can’t stay, and he takes her to the concert to please her. Or, he might choose to stay at work, but with hesitation, as he may be worried about his wife’s reaction to his broken promise.
If he is looking through a money-centered lens, his main thought might be of the extra money he could earn from the overtime, plus he might be in a better position to influence his boss for a potential raise later. He tells his wife he will stay, assuming she understands that money comes first.
If he is work-centered, he might be thinking of how he can use this opportunity to learn more about the job, maybe gain some points with his boss, and further his career. His wife would be proud of him.
If he is stuff-centered, he might be thinking of all the things he could buy from the money he earns from the overtime.
If he is pleasure-centered, he would skip the work and take his wife to the concert, thinking he deserves a night out, even if his wife might be perfectly happy for him to work late.
If he is enemy-centered, he might stay late and think about the advantage he would have over his colleagues. While others are enjoying their downtime, he is doing his work (and theirs) and sacrificing pleasure for the good of the organization and to gain an edge for himself.
If he is self-centered, he will solely think about what will do him the most good. He could stay and win points with his boss. Or, he could skip work and go to the concert. His only concern will be how the different choices affect him.
I hope this gives you a glimpse of what happens when we keep other areas at the center of our lives. Every time we view our situations from an alternate center, it’s akin to putting on a different pair of glasses, which determines our actions and behaviors. This is why understanding our own centers is so important.
In the end, whether he goes to the concert or stays at work is a small part of an effective decision. He could make the same choice with other centers, but here’s what’s different when we operate from a principle center:
As a principle-centered person, we distance ourselves from the emotions in our situations and other factors that might act upon us. We evaluate our options objectively by looking at the gestalt. We are not being acted upon by circumstances or other people. We proactively choose what we think is the best alternative. We make our decisions consciously. We are confident that our decision is the most effective when it is based on principles with long-term thinking.
It’s important to be principle-centered, because no matter what happens outside of us, we won’t be affected because our sense of security and self-worth are not dependent on external things. Rather, it is based on intrinsic things that should never change. We can’t live with outside change without a changeless core inside of us. So while things in our life might change, we can continue to operate from a principle center.
When we look at things from the paradigm of correct principles, our life is significantly different from what we experience through any other center. It is a night-and-day difference between being reactive and proactively making conscious choices. It helps us make better decisions.
In the next draft, we talk about the power of living by a personal mission statement.