Governing Through Principles

“I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”

Joseph Smith.

This statement was given by Joseph Smith as an answer to a question about how he governed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I think it is very applicable to a secular “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” I have reflected on this statement as I have become very concerned about what is happening in our country during this time of crisis.

Founding Principles

The principles which should guide all actions by our government are outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Correct principles also include principles such as those in the 10 Commandments. People should treat others with respect and kindness, as they would want to be treated. Life is sacred and should be protected. Self-direction and self-reliance are sound and valued principles.
At times of crisis like this we see situations where some needs become urgent and some principles take precedence over others. The challenge of meeting urgent needs while maintaining rights according to those principles is a role of government.

Principles in the constitution affirm individual rights of liberty, exhibited in the opportunity to travel, to engage in business, to participate in activities of our choice. The Bill of Rights specifically spell out rights to assemble and to practice religion. People need to be able to work and provide for themselves and their families. They have need of goods and services to preserve life. Generally, government should not interfere with these rights. This is a basic principle of the Constitution.

Yet, government has responsibility to keep its citizens safe, to provide defense against that which would cause harm and endanger life. There may be times when the suspension of individual rights may be necessary in order to protect us, but those situations should be very rare and action taken with great caution. The reason for caution is human nature and the tendency among those with power to exercise “unrighteous dominion.” When people in power seek more power, they put themselves and their wisdom above others and use power to order actions and suspend individual rights. If successful in a crisis, there is not much to stop this from occurring without a crisis, with orders being self-serving, rather than for public good.

Maintaining Balance Through Mutual Trust

Maintaining a balance between preserving inherent and constitutional rights and providing protection can be complicated. Mutual trust is vital, yet sadly lacking today.

Allowing citizens to “govern themselves” requires that government trusts them to do the right things. It includes an assumption that the majority of citizens are morally upright, good people, who want to do good. When good, intelligent people are given accurate and sound information they generally will make choices to benefit all, even when those choices might limit their own freedom to do what they want.

If government trusts their citizens, they need only provide clear, accurate information and make recommendations for action. Then citizens can freely, with their own agency intact, act to make things better or at least not worse.Sure, there will always be those who are not trustworthy, who will selfishly do stupid things that endanger others. They are the ones laws are written for anyway. But to impose orders and threaten penalties upon law abiding citizens shows a dangerous lack of trust.

Trust of the government by the people is also necessary. Governments are mandated to educate their citizens, and that education should include the teaching of correct principles–not only the principles underlying our government, but correct principles about science, history, and human nature.

Teach Correct Principles

Besides being well educated, citizens need to be well informed about current situations in order to be able to use their agency to make wise decisions. This is where a thorough and impartial media is critical. We should be able to trust the media to give us accurate and unbiased information. I see a lack of trust today in both directions.

Public education has been influenced by those who would promote certain agendas over teaching truth. Education about the history of this country is no longer a priority, so we are lacking in understanding about those founding principles and the sacrifices made by those in the past to secure the freedoms we enjoy. Moral education, which early in this country was a significant part of education, has been dismissed as unfairly promoting religion. The ability to regurgitate facts through tests is now preferred to teaching students how to think and reason. What we have now are many citizens blindly following the teachings and direction of whatever factions they trust and suspicious of all other sources.

Back to Trust

Which leads back to trust in the other direction. By creating an educational system which lacks moral training, we have citizens lacking in moral judgment, and a government which does not trust them to make wise choices in a crisis. Add to that people in government more concerned about power than the welfare of citizens issuing orders that restrict individual freedom, which increases distrust of government.

I hope we come out of this crisis with our freedom intact and a greater appreciation of that liberty.

Principles & Personalities

“Principles before Personalities” is one of the often heard phrases in 12-Step Programs. The idea is closely related to “Content is more important than presentation” and “The message is more important than the messenger”.

Yet, we live in a world immersed in entertainment. We tend to worship celebrities, hanging on their every word, as if they know anything about what they are talking about. We want to be entertained, emotionally moved and excited. We are drawn to charismatic people who say things that make us feel good.

Celebrities and politicians are expert in using “flattering words”. It is easy to get caught up in the emotion of a speech and a crowd, until we find ourselves thinking, “wait a minute, what am I cheering?” Unfortunately, many never do pause and think. They just get carried along, repeating slogans and sound bites without thought of what they really mean or what principles they promote.

Founding Personalities

The founders of the United States knew well the range of personalities among themselves, with their unique strengths and weaknesses. These strong personalities provided challenges, especially during the writing of our Constitution. But they also provided differing, yet valuable, perspectives.

The founders probably anticipated that throughout the history of this new Nation, there would be a variety of personalities, abilities and even character among it’s leaders. They designed the government to be able to withstand occasional bad leaders. The Constitution was built upon sound principles, with a system of checks and balances.

Possible Combinations of Principles & Personalities:

Good Principles & Personalities. The ideal situation, of course, would be a having a leader with not simply a strong personality, but more importantly a strong and good character, combined with government based on good sound principles.

Good Principles & not so good Personalities. If we happen to elect a weak leader, or one of questionable character, we still may be on safe ground if all those in government adhere to good principles. A weak leader may try to promote unsound principles, but his weakness might make him ineffective, especially with other good leaders around to keep things under control and the checks and balances within our government.

Bad Principles & Personalities. The worst case would be a strong and charismatic but morally corrupt leader promoting principles that are not sound or good. This would be a potential tyrant.

The Greater Danger

There is so much focus on words in our world today. More important than what a politician says is what he actually does. All politicians make campaign promises, many very unrealistic. While this can give one an idea of what principles they promote, the better barometer is to look at what they actually do. Are their actions consistent with principles we as Americans hold dear? Do their actions predict that they will uphold the Constitution or attempt to alter it?

Our Constitution was constructed to withstand a term with an unlikeable, unpopular or ineffective President. Every four years we have the opportunity to choose someone else – someone we may actually dislike just as much for other reasons.

What our nation may not withstand is a President who abuses his power to undermine and alter the principles within the Constitution. That is a much greater danger than being led by someone we dislike.

The current promotion of unsound principles which are contrary to those principles underlying our constitution and government, seriously threatens freedom. This is especially so with those efforts which are aimed at revoking some of the bill of rights and promoting socialism.

Some Suggestions

Don’t vote for someone just because you “like them” more than others, or because you “hate” someone else. Elections are not popularity contests. We are not choosing someone to socialize with. We are choosing someone to lead. Listen to their messages and the principles they are promoting. Look at what they have done.

Study the Constitution and the principles upon which it is founded. Use those principles as your standard against which to judge the slogans and promises and proposals of politicians.

Study the history of our great Nation. Become familiar with the principles for which our founders and many since have sacrificed their lives and honor. Don’t make their sacrifices in vain by rejecting those principles and undoing their work to preserve our freedoms.

Good leadership is important. Preserving our freedoms through adhering to the principles upon which this nation was founded may be ultimately more important.

Celebrate The United States of America!

Flag of the United States of America

A Cause for Celebration

A big anniversary is coming– Our great United States of America is approaching its 250th! It is a privilege for me to become involved in very early preparations for this momentous event for one patriotic organization. I remember well the Bi-Centennial Celebration of our Nation’s founding in 1976. I felt pride and patriotism as I was able to visit sites of historical significance in Boston that year. Now as the 250th approaches, I reflect on some of the rapid and troubling changes in our country over the past decade. I begin to wonder if there may not be so much to celebrate come 2026. What will our Nation and our government look like then? I see things that threaten our Constitution and run counter to the principles upon which it was founded. Some have suggested that the deep divisiveness occurring now is a precursor of civil war.

I feel that there are some things that we as a Nation, and as individual citizens need to do, starting now or sooner, to ensure that when 2026 and its planned celebrations arrive, we will feel that our great Nation is something to be celebrated and to be proud of. Will we be committed to help preserve it for another 250 years? We owe that to our patriot founders and all who have sacrificed to preserve our freedom and government.

Remember

It is imperative that we remember our history. That, for many of our young people, means first learning about the history of our County. For others it requires diligent and honest study and reflection. The shift to include voices which had not been previously heard in the telling of history is noble and worthwhile. Yet, somehow this has become a re-writing of history with judgment and condemnation of our predecessors based on shifting social standards of today. The result is citizens, especially young ones, who are ashamed of our history – and ashamed to be Americans.

We need to remember the patriots who founded our country and those who have served her. They, like all of us, were flawed humans and products of their particular time and environment. We need to understand that context. Those patriots, in spite of or perhaps at times because of those flaws and conditions, showed great courage and made tremendous sacrifices to preserve and defend our freedoms. There is much we can learn from them. We will always be indebted to them and should be grateful for their contributions.

We need to remember the history of the world and other countries. An understanding of the government and history of other countries, will make obvious the contrast with ours. There is a reason that those early Colonists desired a different form of government than a monarchy. There is a reason that people from other countries have flocked to ours, escaping oppression. They recognize America’s greatness and see the freedom and opportunities that we too often take for granted.

We humans naturally have celebrations to help us remember significant events. Yet, somehow the significance of celebrations becomes faded or intentionally changed, and we are left with just another day off. We humans erect monuments to help us remember. Yet, we now have movements to remove monuments to erase memories that some feel are unpleasant. What will we have left to help us remember?

Remember, Remember– I hear the echos of these words from the mouths of prophets. Why? Because when we forget, history repeats itself– not the good parts of history– the destructive parts of history. We must remember to hold on to all that is good and to be grateful for it.

Return to Principles and Values

As we remember, we need to recognize and reaffirm the principles and values upon which our country was founded. These principles and values are the “why” of our government– the reason for its existence. Citizens of other countries may feel united over a homeland, predominant ethnicity, shared language or cultural identity. Since early colonization, America has been a melting pot of cultures, languages and ethnic groups. What unites Americans are those principles which we have treasured and fought for.

The principles are eternal and detailed in our founding documents, yet too many are losing sight of them. Do we still value life and liberty? Do we value individual self-determination, self-expression and self-reliance? Do we see government’s role in preserving individual rights, with all being treated equally, rather than controlling people and behavior?

Those core principles and values are being replaced by shifting standards, changing values, popular opinion, relative truth, political expediency. Without the foundation of shared principles we are vulnerable to those who would seek to destroy us.

Respect

We need to return to a respect of our country, its flag and other symbols, its elected offices, and each other. There is no good reason for any citizen of this country to disrespect duly elected officials or the process by which they were elected. Throughout our history we have had many great leaders, and many who were not. They are all human and flawed. The process embedded in the Constitution allows us to have a voice in our representation. It is our privilege, right and duty to hold elected leaders accountable through our votes.

We need to return to talking to each other with respect. There is way too much attacking and taking offense. This fuels divisiveness and hate. Have we forgotten how to talk to each other civilly? We need to listen– really listen with the intent to understandthose with whom we disagree, not just hear enough to come up with a stinging comeback to post on Social Media.

Breaking the Silence

Earlier this year, I wrote a number of blog posts about disturbing things happening in our country today. I shared articles and posts on Social Media and joined in discussions. As expected, there were some unpleasant reactions. Though I think I have a tough skin, I do have feelings. Mostly, I found it all very exhausting and unproductive. I felt I had better things to occupy my time. Other worthwhile things did keep me away from blogging for a good part of the year. At one point, a blog post kind of wrote itself, yet I did not follow through and post it.

I became one more of the many silent Americans. We all have a valuable perspective. We do have something worthwhile to say. Yet, too often, we don’t speak out of fear of being attacked, “educated”, or shamed because we don’t have the “correct” view.

So, I now feel that it is important that I speak up, regardless of the reaction. I have heard the call for some time, but I guess I needed to hear it at 4:00 a.m. on the night we were supposed to get an extra hour of sleep. I will now commit to myself to blog more about topics that I feel are important and in my small way, help to prepare Americans for our 250th in 2026. Who knows how many will hear my messages, or how they will react, but I can speak up. It is my right– even my duty– as a citizen of the United States of America.

5 P’s of Improvement

Improvement

At the beginning of a new year, many of us reflect and set goals or make resolutions. We think about making changes which hopefully will be an improvement or progress toward something better. Real progress involves processes, is based on sound, true principles, stays true to purposes and truly improves.

Progress

C. S. Lewis said, “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” (Mere Christianity)

In our world and our lives, things are constantly changing. But change does not always mean progress. If change does not improve us or something, it is not progress at all. Progress implies forward and upward movement toward something better, higher, more noble. Thinking that anything new is positive or progressive implies that everything from the past has been somehow inferior. Anything new is better than the old. The reality is that much change in the name of progress can actually take us in the wrong direction. Too often changes proposed as progress are more of an attempt by a person or a group to change things to suit themselves, merely because they are in a position of power to do so. Pride can play a part in assuming that “my way is the better way”.

Continue reading