14. Principles: To develop sincere and stable inner values, and avoid harmful influences 

What would you do?

Alice Burke lives on a housing estate in East London that twenty years ago began to suffer high crime levels: residents assaulted in lifts; empty flats taken over by drug dealers; gangs selling guns.  Determined to make it safe again, Alice helped set up a residents association, liaised with the police and personally confronted troublemakers on the street. Despite having her car windows smashed and her life threatened, she carried on living by her principles until the local council launched a regeneration plan, replacing tower blocks with low-rise housing on the estate. Figures for 2008-13 show a 44% reduction in crime in the area, and Alice is now working with other estates to tackle anti-social behavior. Source: www.prideofbritain.com

The benefits of principles

Principles has the potential to:

  • Make our own choices, in a thoughtful and purposeful way
  • Stand up for ourselves and others in difficult times
  • Develop our individual voice, potential and strength

A 16 Guidelines view on principles

If we were each given a blank sheet of paper, how many of us would be able to list the principles that guide our lives? Day-to-day living makes so many demands that sometimes it feels more than enough just to react as best we can to whatever happens, hoping it will all turn out OK.

Yet most of us have plenty of principles, even if we’re not aware of them. What is it that angers us or gets the fire churning in our gut? Getting upset is often the sign that a principle we hold strongly has been breached. It touches on something that says “No!” We may be surprised by the passion and strength that is alive in us.

Principles give us strength. They provide the foundations from which we find the power and energy to make a stand about the things that matter to us. They keep our aspirations on track. Like the spokes of a bicycle wheel, they give stability and help us move forward in a purposeful way. What can we each do to be true to our principles, and use them skilfully to build a happy life?

16 Guidelines resources and training for developing principles

Did you know?

A recent study found evidence that suppressing compassion is not cost free.  It creates dissonance between a person’s moral identity and moral principles. Trying to be less compassionate results in an inner conflict between valuing morality and abiding by their moral rules, and they feel that they must make a substantial trade-off between the two. Thus, people alleviate this conflict by either placing less importance on morality or relaxing their adherence to moral principles.


Daryl Cameron, C.; Payne Keith B.; The Cost of Callousness: Regulating Compassion Influences the Moral Self-Concept, Psychological Science, vol. 23 no. 3 225-229, 2012



Albert Schweitzer was a prosperous and successful German pastor, musician and academic who made the decision to change his life at the age of 30 – from talking about Jesus’s life of compassionate service to actually putting it into practice. 

Following the principle that ‘a man’s life should be the same as his thought’, Schweitzer re-trained as a medical doctor and established a hospital at Lambarene in French Equatorial Africa. Devoting himself to a lifestyle of service and poverty, he lived his life according to a set of principles that he called ‘Reverence for Life’. “Woe to us if our sensitivity grows numb” he said. “It destroys our conscience in the broadest sense of the word: the consciousness of how we should act dies.” 

For more on Albert Schweitzer, see:

  1. www.albertschweitzer.info for a range of resources including a set of short stories from Schweitzer’s life
  2. Out of My Life and Thought: autobiography translated by Antje Bultmann, re-published 1998
  3. Albert Schweitzer: A Biography by James Brabazon (Syracuse University Press, 2000)
  4. Albert Schweitzer a documentary directed by Jerome Hill, 1957 which won an Academy Award
  5. Albert Schweitzer:Called to Africa film directed by Martin Doblmeier, 2006


A short reflection on principles from '16 Guidelines: The Basics' book

Find a quiet space where you can relax. Sit comfortably. To help you settle, focus your awareness on your breathing. Let go of any thoughts, images or feelings that arise. Whenever you become distracted, bring your awareness gently back to the sensation of the breath going in and out. Spend a few minutes enjoying the experience of coming to rest. 

Pose yourself the question “What are my principles?” Let the question gradually drop down deep within you, like a leaf dropping into a deep well. Repeat this a few times. 

Recall a time when you felt calm and solid, like a mountain with foundations stretching far down into the earth. Focus all your attention on the sensation of being grounded and centred. What was going on at that time? What were you thinking? What were you doing? Be as precise as you can. 

Now recall a time when you felt wobbly and unsure of yourself. When you were unfocused and confused. What was going on at that time? What were you thinking? What were you doing? Be as precise as you can. 

Replay each of these situations in your mind. How do the memories manifest in your body? Can you observe any particular sensations in your belly, heart, or throat? Gently probe what these sensations are.  

Ask yourself “What are the values and principles that ground me – that create the sense of being like a mountain?” Identify whatever words, images or ideas come into your mind. If you don’t know where to start, try using a “ready-made” list of principles such as the ten commandments. 

As you examine each value and principle, continue to watch the sensations that arise in your body and notice where there is tension or softness. Can you use these sensations to identify which values and principles are the most alive in you? Do you know why this is so? 

Rest in the strength of whichever values and principles have the most meaning for you. 

Close with the wish “May all beings be happy!”


Quotes on principles

  • Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. - Steve Jobs
  • What you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.  – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • When I do good, I feel good.  When I do bad, I feel bad.  That's my religion. - Abraham Lincoln
  • You can out-distance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside you. - Rwandan Proverb
  • To learn the whole Talmud is a great accomplishment; to learn one good virtue is even greater. - Yiddish Proverb
  • It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. – J.K. Rowling 
  • Never, never be afraid to do what's right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society's punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way. – Martin Luther King Jr.
  • What is the root of angst? If you reflect within yourself and find nothing to be ashamed of, how could you have anxiety or fear? - Confucius


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