Friday, April 20, 2012

Principles instead of rules

The idea of living by principles has come up before and will come up again. When I first started playing with the idea, in preparation for a conference presentation, I was having a hard time getting even my husband and best friends to understand it. Really bright people local to me, parents, looked at me blankly and said "principles are just another word for rules."
I was determined to figure out how to explain it, but it's still not simple to describe or to accept, and I think it's because our culture is filled with rules, and has little respect for the idea of "principles." It seems moralistic or spiritual to talk about a person's principles, or sometimes people who don't see it that way will still fear it's about to get philosophical and beyond their interest or ability.

Rules are things like "Never hit the dog," and "Don't talk to strangers."

Principles are more like "Being gentle to the dog is good for the dog and good for you too," or "People you don't know could be dangerous." They are not "what to do." They are "how do you decide?" and "why?" in the realm of thought and decision making.

The answer to most questions is "it depends."

What it depends on often has to do with principles.

from page 42 (or 46) of The Big Book of Unschooling
photo by Sandra Dodd


  1. I understand what you are saying. A rule will be "never talk to strangers", and one will always follow it. But if a principal is that one has to be careful who one talks to, then a child learn that sometimes there may be exceptions; They learn to take each situation on its own merit, and form time to time a principal may be adjusted. With regards to this principal vs rule, just as an example: I never want my child to judge all strangers as bad people; I don't want her to become closed off from the people in her community because they are strangers. Rather, I want to teach her to be careful, but that her instinct and intuition will guide her with regards to people. And there are a million ways to teach kids to discern between people, but when it comes to rules, strangers are always bad.

    With the dog, you want to teach compassion: We don't hit because it hurts and we don't hurt those that we love. The rile has to be specific, relating only to the dog/your sister/etc and has to be defined in each event. When you teach compassion as a principal, it will be a principal that can be adjusted to any event because they are aware that other beings feel as well.

    LOL - me prattling on. All I wanted to say was, I understand.

    Thank you.

  2. My principles are Be Kind and Courteous. Much simpler than a list of rules trying to accomplish the same thing. Though explaining courtesy is not simple :-)

  3. Would "Try to do things that make other people feel safe and comfortable" help with "defining" courtesy for younger kids?

    Maybe "Be kind" covers it.


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