In a period of crisis and uncertainty, it is a really bad time to be confused about the basis upon which sound decisions are made. In a crisis, a clear head is largely the only ticket out. Indeed, most social crises are caused by large numbers of people—especially leaders—being “lost” relative to the critical differences between opinions, values, and principles. Let us, therefore, summarily review these differences.
Firstly, opinions are preferences people usually come to based upon “feelings, “facts,” or unconscious life/environmental conditioning. Feelings, of course, are highly subjective and based largely on emotional preferences or intuitive opinions which evade rational or logical analysis. They can, in some cases, produce appropriate responses, but they virtually never produce informative policies unless their objective origins are translated into a more rational form.
Secondly, values are codified personal preferences that are seldom based upon principles as we shall shortly see. Values can claim to be “right” or virtuous, but they cannot or never should claim to be true for others or put upon others per se. We all have subjective values—preferences which are held either consciously or unconsciously. Values cannot claim universal status. They too remain in the category of subjectivity even if they are godly, well-intentioned values.
Thirdly, we have principles. What claim do principles make that neither opinions nor values can legitimately make? Precisely this: Principles create logical and empirical results. Principles operate in the realms of both scientific-mathematical logic and in the realm of social behavior and social constructs. Constitutions are, or should be, based on cause-effect principles rather than subjective values or opinions.
The Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, are records of God’s principles and not His opinions or values. While God’s existence in this temporal realm cannot be proven, His principles are manifested daily. Much more can be said here.
For us now I must simply say this: Our nation and the nations do not need more opinions or values. They need clearly-stated and reality-referenced principles. This is the currency of truth-tellers, statesmen and women, and those who will guide us through our current dilemmas. One cheer for opinions and values, and three cheers for principles. And that is…
THE BOTTOM LINE.
***This Bottom Line Classic was originally published September 2013***