An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Principles and Practices

My neighborhood book group is reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People this month in honor of Stephen Covey who died earlier this year. It has been many years since I’ve read The 7 Habits, but I remember most of it. I’ve tried to live up to the win/win ideal, although I still find empathetic listening tough to practice. When I read his section on being proactive rather than reactive, I was surprised. Over the years, I’d forgotten about Covey and sort of thought these were my own ideas.

The part of the book that really caught my attention this time around was Covey’s distinction between principles and practices. In our current age of political and religious polarity, many people call refusal to compromise “standing up for my principles.” Covey distinguishes between principles and practices or policies. He defines principles as unchanging natural laws with universal application. His list of principles includes: fairness, integrity and honesty, human dignity, and service—making a contribution. He tells us, “Principles are not values. A gang of thieves can share values [like loyalty to leaders], but they are in violation of fundamental principles” [fairness, honesty].

The problem with contemporary political discourse is that principles (which should not be compromised) are often confused with policies—which can be compromised. Policies like lower taxes, deficit reduction, and entitlement reform are too often seen as principles. What we need to do is define national principles. Principles we could all agree on might be: a fair society—“with liberty and justice for all,” a healthy economy, and national security. Once we define principles, we can discuss various policies to achieve them—and compromise when necessary.

Unfortunately, religious discussion is often as divisive as political discourse. Identifying principles could also help the religious community. Covey claims that principles are not the same as religious ideas and are not unique to specific religions. In my book, the two principles of religion are love of God and love of our fellow humans—what Jesus called the first and second commandments. Many ways to show love for God and others exist. Some people seek God in meditative contemplation in nature or at home, others seek him in church services. God’s children can be loved and served beyond the church community. Criticizing approaches to keeping the first and second commandments which are different from our own choices violates the principle of love.

Wouldn’t The 7 Habits make a great lesson manual for Sunday School or Relief Society/Priesthood lessons?

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