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These are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.
(…) So, not obeying orders coming from the outside but only to the voice, being ready for such, it would be good, it would be necessary, it was the only necessary thing (…)
Passage of the Indian poem “Siddhartha” – Hermann Hesse
I believe that we are able to dive into the discovery of things through their origin. Suppose we try to understand the origin of the word and its etymological root. In that case, we find that principle comes from the Latin principium, “beginning, foundation, origin, next cause, beginning,” from primus (“what comes before”), and from Greek prin, with the same meaning.
“Principle” is the sum of three words from Latin:
- primus – first – princeps
- capio – that is made
- –ium – that produces a result
“Principle” means beginning and what is done first and produces results, says the author Luís Martins Simões time and time again. A word that shares an identical etymological root in principle is “prince.” The opposite of “principle” is “rule.” “Rule” comes from king. In fairy tales, the king is always a bore, and the prince is always charming. The prince is rebellious, cute, young, dynamic, and passionate. The king is dull and heavy.
The rules are imposed from the outside in; the principles from the inside out. Rules imply obedience. Principles imply discipline. Discipline works from the inside out, and obedience works from the outside in.
I have never really understood rules or what they support. It’s not that I do not want to follow them either; they are just not what defines me. I don’t need a rule; nobody should require precepts to tell that one can’t hurt another person. I understand intrinsically that this is not the path I want to follow.
It makes more sense for me to have a set of truths that are mine, truths that are part of who I am, and that somehow override the rules. When the rules come into conflict themselves, I need to have something even stronger to be able to make a decision. And sometimes, the decision can be to abandon the game and go and play with other rules. Because when I’m given rules, I can’t even quit the game – because one of the rules is not to leave the game.
I even believe that societies with the most rules are the most ineffective. And the heaviest punishments for not following rules have never deterred anyone. The death penalty does not eliminate crime. It is better to encourage a principle-oriented life from an early age.
Businesses with principles
You cannot create a business culture or define an organization’s principles since it is an abstract entity from this perspective, which is only creating hollow concepts. It has no culture or principles, as opposed to the people who make it up and actually have them.
And notice that values like practicing the truth can mean different things for everyone. It’s more productive to give people the possibility to define a set of principles that cheer them up, make sense to them, and apply in that context.
Nor is it asking what they want to be, because that already limits them, but giving them the opportunity to state clearly what they don’t want to be.
When this becomes clear, people begin to know what to do, not in terms of their roles and hard skills, but soft skills. They stop drifting in vague concepts, and everything becomes more apparent because people know why and flow together.
It’s the difference between complying with rules just because and assuming a commitment and a responsibility.
An organization is a set of relationships, so it makes sense to rely on some of the same principles in which we rely on other relations.
But what are principles after all?
Principles are deep, fundamental truths, classic truths, common generic denominators. They are closely intertwined lines that weave life with precision, consistency, beauty, and strength.
Stephen R. Covey, in his view of principles, also opposes them to arbitrary and extrinsic rules. For him, principles are like universal laws, which govern the natural systems that concern us all and in which we are inserted, based on the cause-effect relationship, order, and chaos: “A principle is a natural law, like gravity. If you drop something, gravity controls it. If I don’t tell you the truth, you won’t trust me. It is a natural law.”
Ray Dalio points in a similar direction, saying that principles are fundamental truths for behaviors that give us what we want out of life.
That is, behavior attracts behavior. I believe that there is a natural law in which, if I do not practice what I believe, if I agree with something that I think is not in the best way that it could be, I will attract to me a bunch of things that will cause me discomfort. They will not let me rest because they are showing me that maybe I could have done things differently.
On the contrary, if I practice transparency, truth, firm love, if I give feedback, I will more easily receive all this as a reflection of the cause-and-effect law and not due to rules. Any conflict or impasse that I encounter will be resolved based on the principles and not on what I was told, from the outside in, to do.