This set of Twelve Principles is a guide to valid, unitive action. Following these principles orients us in a direction of coherence, towards the overcoming of suffering and the discovery of a personally true meaning in life.
1. The Principle of Adaptation
“To go against the evolution of things is to go against oneself.”
Throughout our lives, we are exposed to inevitable changes: for example, the body grows old, the children move away from their parents, the beloved ones die, traditions are abandoned. Sometimes we fight against these changes and we suffer. This principle does not say that we have to accept everything (for example, many diseases, even severe ones, can be treated), just those situations that are truly inevitable. If we are able to do this, we feel better and we avoid unnecessary suffering.
2. The Principle of Action and Reaction
“When you force something towards an end, you produce the contrary.”
Often, when we wish for something very strongly, we do everything we can to obtain it, without paying attention to other people’s needs and feelings. We may well end up forcing someone to do what we want. Thus, sometimes we do achieve the results that we desired, but a little later we loose whatever we believed to have achieved; sometimes we immediately produce a reaction opposite to what we had expected. For example, with the swindle of power and violence we can force others to obey, but sooner or later they will revolt. Or we try to force someone to love us and we insist so much that this person – on the contrary – rejects us.
3. The Principle of Well Timed Action
“Do not oppose a great force. Retreat until it weakens, then advance with resolution.”
This principle does not suggest that we should retreat in front of the small problems of daily life, only in front of something stronger than oneself, and that is not worth fighting, because we certainly cannot win. How are we going to recognise a favourable moment when we can face this great force? By doing small experiments, little attempts. If we realise that the force has weakened, we have to fight it with all our energy, until we overcome it. For example, it may happen that we have to work to make a living and that is why we have to stop going to school, but in any case we are still going to try to find a way to renew our studies as soon as possible.
4. The Principle of Proportion
“Things are well when they move together, not in isolation.”
Sometimes we are very busy with one thing and put very little energy into others, even if they are important. As time passes by, this might create problems. At other times we would like to do something that interests us, but the other things that we have to do make it difficult for us, or even prevent us from doing it. For example, a woman who is married and has children might have difficulties participating in the activities of the Humanist Movement, even if she would like to participate. This principle says that in order to be happier, we have to find a way to move everything forward that is important in our lives. We will devote more time to some things and less to others, but we will never give up any of them.
5. The Principle of Acceptance
“If day and night, summer and winter are well with you, you have overcome you contradictions.”
Day and night, summer and winter (or the dry season and the rainy season) represent opposing situations which appear during our daily lives. We like some of them and we wish they could last forever, there are others which we do not like, and we try to avoid them, and if we do not manage to avoid them, we suffer and we feel bad. We could see things in a different way: if we consider everything that happens to us as an opportunity that serves us to learn something, then even the less pleasant situations and problems do not make us suffer so much. Let’s consider, for example, immigration: Many women suffer because of having separated from their husbands, and they cannot wait to have the husband back home. Is it not true that while being separated, these women learn to deal with daily difficulties on their own and they become stronger and more independent? The men, on the other hand, have to adapt to a new environment with different habits and deal with their homesickness. Nevertheless, they are forced by this situation to bring forth all their capacities, and they also have the opportunity to learn new things. Thus, these periods can also be useful and important, and they can be accepted without suffering. From this point of view, every single aspect of life can serve to our development.
6. The Principle of Pleasure
“If you pursue pleasure, you enchain yourself to suffering. But as long as you do not harm your health,
enjoy without inhibition when the opportunity presents itself.”
This principle is linked with the Principle of Liberty, which says: “When you harm others you remain enchained, but if you do not harm anyone you can freely do whatever you want.” Continuously pursuing pleasure makes us always feel dissatisfied, it makes us dependent and we tend to consider others as nothing but a means for satisfying our desires. What’s more, it is absurd to harm our own health with exaggerated pleasures. Yet, giving up the pleasure simply to obey or, on the contrary, experiencing the pleasure but feeling guilty leads to suffering. This principle suggests not to chase after pleasure, but to benefit from all of the opportunities that appear with freedom and joy, as long as this does not harm our health.
7. The Principle of Immediate Action
“If you pursue an end you enchain yourself. If everything you do is done as though it were an end in itself, you liberate yourself.”
When we have a goal, we may tend to concentrate only on this, giving little importance to all of the steps to be taken in order to achieve the goal. These steps distress us, they give us the feeling of loosing time or sacrificing ourselves, and this suffering seems to be the price we have to pay to achieve our goal, since we are convinced that we will not be happy before that moment in the future. But these steps are in fact important and should be considered in the most positive way possible. These steps have value, because they are a part of our lives: all of the actions that we accomplish are important, they have an impact on others, they teach us something and they help us develop our qualities. Thus, we can live in a more joyful way, and we can always feel good, satisfied with our lives.
8. The Principle of Comprehended Action
“You will make your conflicts disappear when you understand them in their ultimate roots, not when you try to resolve them.”
Almost everybody faces their problems without trying to understand their root cause. If you behave this way, your problem will not be truly solved; it may disappear, but some time later it will come up again or it will even become more complicated and create other problems. This principle does not say that we should not do anything when a problem appears. But when we deal with the problem, we should also understand it profoundly.
9. The Principle of Liberty
“When you harm others you remain enchained, but if you do not harm anyone you can freely do whatever you want.”
This principle explains that if we harm others, then the guilty conscience, the resentment, the fear of the consequences of our acts, the mistrust towards others, invade us. And we are prisoners of these negative feelings. This principle explains, moreover, that there is no reason to not do something that we like if nobody is harmed by our actions.
10. The Principle of Solidarity
“When you treat others as you would have them treat you, you liberate yourself.”
This great moral principle appears in all cultures and religions, it can give a coherent direction for the existence of individuals as well as large human communities. When we apply it, we experience a feeling of profound agreement with ourselves, a feeling of peace, of being close to others, in a way that we wish to repeat this kind of action. We feel that we have made a step forward in liberating ourselves from egoism, prejudice and intolerance, which often guide our actions, and this gives us confidence in ourselves, in others and in the future.
11. The Principle of Denial of Opposites
“It does not matter in which faction events have placed you. What matters is for you to comprehend that you have not chosen any faction.”
This principle does not suggest that we abandon our political, ideological or religions positions, but it invites us to consider that these positions have been influenced by the times in which we were born, by the environment in which we have been living, by the education that we have received, that is to say, by the things we did not choose. Applying this principle helps us to avoid intolerance and fanaticism and, at the same time, understand the position of others. Looking at things this way contributes to the freedom of our spirits and allows us to build a bridge to others, even if their ideas are different or even opposite to ours.
12. The Principle of the Accumulation of Actions
“Contradictory and unitive acts accumulate within you. If you repeat your acts of internal unity, then nothing can detain you.”
We call contradictory actions those that give us the feeling of internal violence and betrayal of ourselves. By unitive actions we mean those which give us a feeling of being in agreement with ourselves, a sense of personal improvement, and a wish to repeat them after we do them. According to this principle, both contradictory and unitive actions leave a trace in our memory, which drives us to repeat them. If we repeat unitive actions, we orient our future conduct towards a growing internal unity and thus a growing happiness.