What is Your Organizing Principle?


What is the central principle around which you organize your life?  Have you thought about it?  Do you have one?  How do you utilize that principle to make decisions, especially when challenged or stressed?

I’ve been pondering these questions as I reflect upon my behavior and the decisions I’ve made over the years.  It’s not that I regret my decisions, even the really bad ones!

We make the best decisions at the time with the information we have available.  And, with the brain capability we have at the time.  The human brain doesn’t fully mature until roughly age 25 or 26, and slightly later for men.  That explains a lot of decisions in my late teens and early twenties!

Each decision provided an opportunity to learn something new.   Or, as the saying goes, “if you fall down at least you are falling forward.”  In many ways, I learned what not to do and what I don’t like.  I don’t like beets, oysters, bullies, or people who insist on seeing the worst in the world.

It’s easy to speculate as to the organizing principles of those we admire and those we don’t.  I admire former President Obama and Michele Obama.  I would speculate their organizing principles are about making things better, contributing to the larger whole, and the importance of family and forgiveness.

What principles open us to possibilities and greater opportunities?   What principles help to shrink our world, creating a narrow perspective?  Can an organizing principle that is “positive” open us up to pain and suffering?

If someone has an organizing principle of harmony, they would look for opportunities to reduce conflict.  That is a worthy principle.  But what if that person is so focused on harmony that they allow others to take advantage of them, or stand by while others are abused because they don’t want to create conflict?

There are principles that are easy to categorize as limiting or negative, fear and ego come immediately to my mind.  However, have you ever made a decision based upon fear?   In some situations, fear is a reasonable principle.  “Use a ladder Carol, don’t stand on a chair!”  Fear of falling can lead to safer behaviors.  “I’m not sure I want to try, because I may fail,” is limiting and self-defeating.

What about self-control?  Is that a positive or a negative organizing principle?  I used to think that self-control was positive, and for me it was aspirational.  I longed to be able to navigate the turbulent waters of large corporations in complete control of my emotions and reactions.  Just when I was patting myself on the back for being “in control,” someone would tell me I appeared cold and unfriendly.

What I learned is that many organizing principles if over-used, can be limiting.  Self-control can easily become rigidity.  My desire for self-control many times limited my perspective and made it easier for me to judge others.  If I wasn’t in self-control, then I could be buffeted by my environment.  If I was in self-control, my world-view would shrink.  It was a catch-22.

As with most principles/beliefs/mindsets, if they are held too tightly or unexposed to review or consideration, they can become limiting.  I’ve learned that I need to explore my principles regularly, hold them up to the light and examine them.  There needs to be moderation and a review in light of the current circumstances of life.  It would be so much easier if life was black/white or right/wrong.

There are some organizing principles that are naturally expansive.  Love, humility, and compassion come to my mind.  These are my aspirational organizing principles.  Operating from these principles is work for me.  I’d like to live my life with these three at the core of my being at all times.

I too often fall into the trap of my ego, experience a lack of compassion for those who hurt others, and struggle to love all people unconditionally.  But then doesn’t any worthy endeavor require some effort?