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That Whole Guiding Principles Thing. Part 3 of 5

"Everybody wants to be understood; well, I can hear you ...Don't give up. Because you are loved."

So we commit to beginning with love when we look upon each other, and being open to their ideas. But we also have ideas of our own. And our ethic of personal responsibility means that it is up to us to ultimately determine our beliefs and our courses of action.

So what about if all those things start crashing against each other?

It's not if, it's when. But that's okay, IF you have some clearly articulated guiding principles*.

The key is clear guiding principles, by which I mean, statements rooted in our core values that we are going to commit to live by, even when we don't want to. You know, like a guiding principle to communicate with love and respect, not snark. (God, that's hard. Why did I choose that for a guiding principle? Oh yeah, I'm trying to live in integrity with my commitment to love the hell out of the world. Ugh.) We give our word to the principle and make a commitment to ourselves to allow it to guide our decisions and actions.

Thus, when presented with a hard choice, or a new idea, or a situation that causes us anxiety, we turn to our handy-dandy guiding principles. We may have several sets of guiding principles, categorized by topic, e.g.:

Guiding Principles for My Ministry 
1. I trust that there is a guiding and sustaining force behind my ministry.
2. I respond to complaints with loving curiosity.
3. I communicate directly.
4. I am willing to be vulnerable in order to be transparent and honest.

Some may be incomplete, addressing just one issue you struggle with:

Communication with Others 
I prioritize being kind over being entertaining.

Guiding principles are not what you are doing already, that you are happy with. You don't need guiding principles for that. Guiding principles are for the things you struggle with, where you want to make improvements. They're changeable. As things develop, you may need to fine-tune them, or change them altogether. They're your commitment to yourself, and can encompass your health, your relationships with others, goals, etc.

But they're yours. You decide what they are. It is your decision.

No one else gets to decide your guiding principles.

And you don't get to decide anyone else's.

And there's the rub.

Everyone gets to make their own choices. Even, as my systems coach is wont to remind me, stupid choices.

In a Unitarian Universalist church, this is a idea we have to hold in tension with that community's covenant. The individual's right to decide, within a community that creates a set of agreements about how everyone will treat each other.

And that can be hard. Because even within the covenant, there is often a lot of room for what many of us may consider to be "stupid choices."

Maybe it is and maybe it isn't. But they get to decide. We can teach people lots of things, but ultimately, it is their personal right and responsibility to engage with the idea and determine for themselves what they think about it. And that is one of the really difficult things about being in a community. Because we don't just want to be understood -- we want to be agreed with!

I find that most people are more open to new ideas when they know that being loved is assured. When they know that they're encouraged to experiment with the idea and see how it fits with their lived experience. And when they know that they are not being asked to substitute someone else's judgment for their own, but they can speak up and share their thoughts, even their disagreement.

(This does not mean that their idea will necessarily be respected. We should make efforts to treat people with respect. But not necessarily their ideas.)

Having clear guiding principles means that we have something to lay alongside all of the new ideas we'll encounter, especially those that most challenge us. We start with love, which opens up in us a willingness to hear what the other person has to say. We listen, we consider their experience and expertise, and we work to discern where we need to grow and change.

In the end, we still get to decide. We may decide that someone's idea makes a lot of sense. We may decide it doesn't really make sense to us, but we're willing to prioritize what they want, especially if we don't have a strong feeling one way or the other.

And ... we may carefully consider the idea, and decide that we are not willing to make the changes they recommend.

Might there be consequences to our decision? Yep. You have a right to make your own decisions. You don't have a right to live without consequences. Because the other person may decide that this is so significant to them, they need to put a boundary up between you.

Because see ... they get to decide, too.

* If you need help figuring out your guiding principles, I recommend this online course. It's taught by Dr. Ken Shuman, and I get no financial compensation for it. I might get a quick "hey, thanks for the referral," but probably not even that, because his speciality is self-differentiation and he'll figure I'm sharing this because I want to, and not out of any favor to him. And he would be 100% correct. 

My Love Song to Unitarian Universalism ... and Unitarian Universalists. Part 1 of 5 

Personal Responsibility is Non-Transferable. Part 2 of 5


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