(because many of the issues we discuss concerning sports governance, politics and interpersonal relations boils down to this – take it as a warmup for a discussion about performance enhancing drugs and the hidden agendas of the war on drugs)
- Principles are guidelines or beliefs by which one lives one’s life, makes one’s decisions, etc. Usually, by age 20 people have the basic set of principles that they will keep for life. That’s when they can choose what to keep and what to reject from what has been passed on to them by the previous generation, through their parents, school, church, etc. Principles are not nice models that work for a while. When one chooses to give up a certain principle, it usually represents a major life crisis. Principles are usually employed to discern right from wrong.
- When we hear the claim “so and so doesn’t have principles” it is akin to “so and so doesn’t care about right and wrong”. Usually this is correct. Incoherent behavior is usually a red flag for lack of principles. It is usually hidden behind outrage and similar dramatic manifestations. Very rarely you have a specimen that is honest about their lack of principles. Like someone who will calmly look at you and say “yes, I just took advantage of you and there is nothing you can do about it, honey… live with it”. In a strange way, I respect these people: they stand by their lack of principles. I despise megalomaniac outrage, which is an inelegant and clumsy attempt to cover unscrupulous behavior.
- Some people will use religion as a set of guidelines for right and wrong. That is fine. I wasn’t raised religious and I don’t know what is out there, if there is an afterlife or if there is anything besides matter (energy being matter in a quantum physics perspective). That is fine, too. If there is something out there and if that is related to good versus evil, I’m good. If there isn’t, I’m good, too. As a very wise friend once told me, “you might not believe in God, but he believes in you and you are working for him, you just don’t know it”. That’s fine, too.
- Principles are self-explanatory and self-justifying. They are like ethical axioms. You do something right because it is right. And because it is right, you do it. As simple and complicated as that.
- Complex societies need a set of consensus about what can and what cannot be done. This is the State and the legal system, plus law enforcement, regulatory agencies, etc etc. That has nothing to do with principles or actual right and wrong. But one of the principles I live by is that once a law exists, even if I don’t agree with it, I will act according to it. There are people whose principles lead them to confront the laws they don’t agree with. They are not necessarily unscrupulous, but that’s a very dangerous option. Finally, there are those who not only lack principles, but feel an urge to transgress any social rule available to be transgressed. These people have something called “anti-social personality disorder” and, if they also lack empathy, they are what is known as psychopaths.
- At one extreme we have the strict law abiding, principles guided individuals. At the other extreme, we have psychopaths. Between one and the other, there is everybody else. Both extremes are rare. Most of my friends are in the extremely scrupulous end of the spectrum. That doesn’t mean they agree what these principles should be. That is fine. They are usually very generous and have little need for external approval (which doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy being the object of admiration and love). I like these people and I promote their projects. Why? Well, because it is the right thing to do. And doing the right thing is right. No brownie points for doing it.
- Everybody, by definition, has crossed paths with people from the other extreme. Many people escaped with minor bruises. But many didn’t: among my friends, the damage caused by the unscrupulous individuals out there (sometimes even psychopaths, who are not that rare and are extremely prolific) is just a question of amount and degree. I think I don’t know one single person who was not damaged by unscrupulous people, frequently psychopaths. We just have to live with this.