A Plea for the Triumph of Principles
How does a concerned citizen effect positive change in our world?
In the current political discourse, we are inundated by passionate arguments and obfuscations, promoted by “talking heads” and “experts” of every persuasion, trying to gather our support for a particular viewpoint. In this morass of opinion and argument, many become confused and overwhelmed. The dizzying talking points of each side seem to complicate and confuse, rather than to clarify.
In the midst of this cacophony of conflicting opinion and argument, is it any wonder that many just want to give up and tune it out? We have better things to do than to argue and sift through all the “crap.” Besides, none of us are as skillful as the talking heads on TV in defending a position. Perhaps we make a faint effort to gather facts and make our decision based on a factual analysis. But, we soon learn that there are “facts” that support each side. We will never be able to compete with the professionals.
There seems to be no clear standard upon which to base our opinion.
So, we may become discouraged and cynical. Perhaps we find the easiest course is to simply comfort ourselves with taking an opinion that matches our natural inclination. What is easy for me to believe? What do I want to believe? Surely, we can find facts that will support what we want to believe, and that is the work of every politician: to give the people a reason to believe what they want them to believe. We can even “cherry pick” the facts that we want to hear. We then find ourselves choosing the narrative that matches what we want to believe, and there is plenty of evidence to confirm what we are looking for. Eventually, we find ourselves actually believing just what we want to believe.
As we come to believe what we want to believe, as opposed to what is true, we lose sight of what is real, and we lose our integrity. This is a recipe for division and polarization, and each side moves farther and farther from the other. First we disagree. Then we demonize. Then we hate. At some point, we lose the ability to even discuss. Then, will we turn to violence? This is surely the path that will destroy us as a people and as a Nation.
Is there a better way to see the truth and what is right for our country? Is there a more sure standard? Is there a solution for the confusion and conflict that is driving us apart? Can we as mature adults find enough common ground to advance liberty and freedom and the special American values that so many have given their lives for?
I believe there is. And it may easier than you think. Perhaps it lies in identifying simple, core principles that we can trust and all agree on. In the complicated world of discovering what works, we often rely on arguments of expediency rather than of principle. Principles trump expediency. A firm reliance on sound, time-tested principles will guide us through the muddied waters of expediency and land us on the shore of certainty.
Throughout history this has been shown to be true. Even the “best and brightest” minds often get it wrong. When left to the apparent expedient option, limited human vision has been woefully inadequate. Unexpected turns of fortune, combined with unforeseen consequences, and the notorious limitations of shortsighted human wisdom, often combine to discredit the most careful analysis of any particular problem.
It takes faith to rely on principle rather than expediency, but if our determination of policy relies on sound, time-tested principles, we can be assured of positive results and that can lead us to a unity of purpose.
In the current controversy engulfing our nation regarding the recent election, here are several suggested principles that will help us to find clarity and unity:
- Our prosperity and success as a people and as a Nation is dependent upon our belief in God and our willingness to obey His commandments. This is fundamental. We may safely conclude that any idea, philosophy, policy, or act that leads away from this core principle is detrimental to our health and prosperity.
- Our Constitution is an inspired document and a strict adherence to it will protect us from so many evils. There is a powerful movement in the land that attempts to subvert and change the Constitution in the false interest of modernity and expediency.
- “By their fruits ye shall know them.” A man (or elected official) should be judged not only by what he says, but, perhaps more importantly, by what he does. A man’s actions speak far louder than his words.
- Eschew violence. Forceful imposition of one’s will upon another is justified only in special circumstances that are according to the laws of the land and consistent with our Constitution. Unlawful violence is never the answer. We must rely on rational dialogue to convince each other of wise policy, rather than forcing our will upon others. When one party tries to game the system to achieve power and force their agenda, the other party is aggrieved, is resentful, and this tends eventually to lead to polarization and even, perhaps, violence. A recent political candidate stated, “we cannot change people’s minds—we must change the system.” This is exactly backward. If we are to effect lasting change, we must change peoples’ hearts and minds. “A man convinced against his will is of the same mind still.”
- Man has agency given to act for himself. Measures to manipulate, coerce, or force in the interest of a greater good vitiate liberty and one’s freedom to act. It seems that as a society, we have almost forgotten how to encourage good behavior by teaching virtue, and instead have resorted to coercion at every level to make people do the right thing. This practice teaches us to not think for ourselves and is making us slaves. Man’s agency also implies accountability for his actions, and this must be taught as well.
- Nothing good is free and we cannot expect the high road to be the easy road. A man must diligently search for the truth, and pay the price to become informed and wise. As we are disinterested bystanders, whether from discouragement, cynicism, or laziness, we risk losing our liberty to the forces of ignorance and discord. Can we expect to enjoy the blessings of liberty that others have sacrificed their lives for if we are not willing to make our own sacrifice to become virtuous, informed and involved citizens?
The measure of a man’s patriotism is the extent to which he will choose to find and believe the truth and then act upon it in the interest of his country. This is dependent upon his integrity and virtue. To the extent he is not honest with himself, he is vulnerable to deception.
These are correct principles. They are tried and true. One may depend upon them in all circumstances.
In any particular situation or controversy, use them to measure the truth or viability of any proposition or philosophy. As you watch the news and the actors on the world stage, think about these principles, set them as a standard to help you find the truth.
WHAT IF WE CAN’T AGREE ON THESE BASIC PRINCIPLES?
Then use more basic principles, such as:
1. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Love and respect for others is the most powerful tool we have to influence each other for good, and to achieve common agreement and purpose. When we demonize others, we lose the ability to influence them. Those that seek to tear down others with destructive criticism and hateful speech you may be sure are not part of the answer. It is one thing to constructively criticize or disagree. This leads to rational thought and collaboration. Indeed, as we respectfully listen and engage with those with differing viewpoints, we may be able to achieve mutual understanding and agreement. Compromise is enabled, and unity of purpose becomes possible.
2. Iniquity and wickedness must not be tolerated, but must be called out and defeated. This need not be done in anger or hate, but with firmness and steadiness in defending what is right. A great example of this is how Abraham Lincoln dealt with the slavery issue.
3. Teach your children, family, and friends correct principles, and use your influence for good in your own social circles as much as you can.
4. Virtue triumphs. As we practice honesty and integrity in all aspects of our lives, our example will be above reproach, and we can operate from a position of moral authority. It won’t make us superior or better than others, but will place us in a credible position to effect positive change.
“From day to day, the capital facts of human life are hidden from our eyes. Suddenly the mist rolls up, and reveals them, and we think how much good time is gone, that might have been saved, had any hint of these things been shown…
“When we break the laws, we lose our hold on the central reality…
“In this kingdom of illusions we grope eagerly for stays and foundations. There is none but a strict and faithful dealing at home, and a severe barring out of all duplicity or illusion there. Whatever games are played with us, we must play no games with ourselves, but deal in our privacy with the last honesty and truth. I look upon the simple and childish virtues of veracity and honesty as the root of all that is sublime in character. Speak as you think, be what you are, pay your debts of all kinds. I prefer to be owned as sound and solvent, and my word as good as my bond, and to be what cannot be skipped, or dissipated, or undermined, to all the éclat of the universe. This reality is the foundation of friendship, religion, poetry, and art…”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essay on “Illusions”