Basic to the understanding of this book is the concept of natural, true principles. Principles are natural, we have an inborn feeling for them. We are all extremely familiar with principles and we rely on them. A principle is an 'obvious' truth, it is self-evident. We know that without breathing we won't live very long, we know that the sun rises in what we call the east, we are very familiar with a force that we later came to understand as gravity. We know the significance of friendship. We know it, and never seriously doubt it.
We know principles experientially, we don't merely believe in them. They are not ideas in our mind. Principles are not dependent on our culture, on what we happen to believe in this culture at this moment in time. These things have been known to be true throughout cultures. They are more basic than our mental makeup and what we believe about life. Principles somehow precede our cultural ideas and beliefs. They bypass our opinions and belief-systems completely. Principles are truths, and basically undeniable.
In his terrific book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Stephen Covey enlightens us on the nature of principles by recounting a story about a battleship caught in a storm. It's a true to life story that first appeared in Proceedings, the magazine of the Naval Institute. The story is by Frank Koch.
Two battle ships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.
Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, "Light, bearing on the starboard bow."
"Is it steady or moving astern?" the captain called out.
Lookout replied, "Steady, captain," which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.
The captain then called to the signalman, "Signal that ship: We are on a collision course, advise you change course 20 degrees."
Back came a signal, "Advisable for you to change 20 degrees."
The captain said, "Send, I'm a captain, change course 20 degrees."
"I'm a seaman second class," came the reply. "You had better change course 20 degrees."
By that time the captain was furious. He spat out, "Send, I'm a battleship. Change course 20 degrees."
Back came the flashing light, "I'm a lighthouse."
We changed course.
Like lighthouses, principles stand rock-solid, and they can guide us. In this rapidly changing world, where it seems there are not many things we can solidly rely on, principles are ageless and foundational. They have a guidingproperty: like the evening star that sailors could rely on to show them the way.
Various principles are valid in different areas of life. If we want healthy relationships, the principles of honesty and friendship hold true. The best marriages are based on friendship. It was Nietzsche who observed: "It is not lack of love but lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages."
If we want a healthy and long-term business, the principle of adding value holds true. The idea is not to try and make a lot of money but to try and add a lot of value! Provide a service, make customers very happy, truly satisfy them, and money comes as a consequence of that. And running our business on the principle of adding value, we don't need to be falsely modest either. There's nothing wrong in becoming rich if it means that we've been able to give something of good value to a lot of people. The primary focus is to add value, not to make money, that's the principle.
For our physical well-being, we need some form of exercise, or the body becomes weaker and weaker and we get hopelessly out of shape. The principle is exercise.
Three centuries ago Galileo Galilei proclaimed that it was the earth that turned around the sun and not vice versa as was previously believed. You wouldn't make a big deal out of it now, but it was a big deal then! In what was later called the Galileitrial, Mr. Galilei was eventually summoned by the pope to publicly denounce his words. He responded: "I will revoke my statement, but I don't think either the sun or the earth will mind much."
Principles are not beliefs that need to be defended or supported. Natural principles have their way irrespective of our beliefs and opinions. It sometimes seems that we all live in a different reality, because of our different views on life. And though it's true that our beliefs about life color our experiences, reality itself is independent of our views and beliefs. Reality exists before we begin to form beliefs and opinions about it. Whatever our belief-system, sooner or later that bubble will burst, and we are forced to a reality-check. Of course we can look into life voluntarily too. When we do, natural principles are what we find.
There is a hierarchy of principles: for our physical survival, oxygen is the first and most fundamental principle. Water, food, warmth and hygiene are fundamental principles for our physical existence, but they are not the most fundamental principle for physical survival. Oxygen is the very life-blood of our cells, we can not live without it for more than three, four minutes. In the game of tennis, technique comes first. Before being able to play a tactical game you must have some technique to hit the ball back in the first place. In order for a plant to grow, it needs water and sunlight. Without water and sunlight it won't grow, no matter how big the flowerpot. Certain principles are more fundamental than others, and some are the most fundamental: the first principles.
To understand these principles, you can look into them yourself. Exercising your direct perception, looking into them with honest intelligence, natural principles become unavoidable, unquestionable. It becomes absurd to doubt or to question them any further. True principles, once we are aware of them, are amazingly obvious.
What are principles? Principles are natural laws, or natural truths. The sun rises in the east, it never rises in the west. You can look west all day and convince yourself that that's where the sun will rise, but you're just fooling yourself. People have their own ideas about what is true or truth. Yet truth, by its very nature, is not dependent on what we think of it. That's what makes it truth: it is true irrespective of what we believe about it! Our opinions, for or against, are irrelevant. True principles are beyond opinions, yours or mine.
When we understand natural laws or principles and live life accordingly, it's like swimming downstream. When we water the garden, flowers bloom! If we neglect the garden, the seeds may never sprout. Water is the life of the garden, it is its first principle, without it there would be no garden. Water is a natural law, it is a natural principle. It needs no arguments in its favor, it simply cannot truly be denied.
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- Natural, true principles
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