Tag Archives: ethics

Principle-Based Decision Making


In my experience, making decisions from principle is like a double-edged sword. On the one edge, intuitively we sense that making decisions from principle would be the highest choice. On the other edge, principle itself does not point to any particular decision in an absolute sense in most cases.

This was clearly illustrated some years ago when I was in a relationship with someone who was as steeped in spiritual principle as I am. In the early days of the relationship we would use spiritual principles to argue our point of view in disputes. It quickly became apparent that the same spiritual principle could be used to argue for opposite points of view. For example, love is a core value behind all spiritual principles. One could argue that love dictates that we fulfill our partner’s requests or we could argue that love dictates that our partner fulfill our need for self-care at a given moment.

Looking to spiritual principle to point us to any particular outcome, in an absolute sense, I find is usually futile. However, that does not mean we cannot make decisions from principle. On the contrary, for me it is essential that I do so. When making decisions from principle, our intention and motivation are key.

In his book, Ethics for the New Millennium, the Dalai Lama said, “In Tibetan, the term for what is considered to be of the greatest significance in determining the ethical value of a given action is the individual’s kun long. Kun long is understood as that which drives or inspires our actions.”

In the relationship example above, one can be in principle by choosing to fulfill a partner’s request from the intention of love, or one could be in principle by choosing to honor their own needs in a given situation from the intention of love. Similarly, one could take either of these actions and not be in principle if the intent or motivation were not love. If we honor our partner’s request out of guilt or we do so with resentment, that is not acting from principle. If we decide not to honor our partner’s request out of spite or selfishness, that is equally not living from principle.

Making decisions from principle then is about where we are coming from. Our intention and motivation are key. So this is where we can place our attention: Whatever we choose, we do it from love and we align with our values and the spiritual principles that are true for us.

Knowing the mind’s ability to rationalize most anything, it is important to check in with the heart to make sure we are truly moving from a principled intent. The heart is the seat of true wisdom and of our intuitive powers. If we pause for a moment and feel where our intention is, we are more likely to be authentically aligning with our values and principles. Then a particular outcome is likely to become apparent as the right one for us right now in the situation we are facing.

In summary, right action can be revealed to us relative to a particular situation in a specific moment in time, but rarely will principle dictate that the same action is right in all situations or all the time.

The invitation this day is to be clear on your values and the principles you choose to align with, and to pause for a moment in making decisions to listen to your heart in aligning with your values and principles. In this way, we are powerfully and authentically living a principle-based life.

Enjoy the journey.