Often in AA meetings you will hear people chant "Principles before Personalities". In Step 4 we are asked to list our resentments to people, institutions or "principles". Yet few in AA upon being asked what the 'principles' are seem to know. Part of the reason for this is that in the 1930's between the Wars there was agreed direction in the world. People were understood as 'evolving' and 'growing' spiritually and developmentally. Having witnessed the mass destruction and loss of life in WWI people understood that it was so much easier to destroy and that creation required work. Civilization was something that needed to be built and nurtured whereas the wild and chaotic would come and exist without effort. A baby could not control it's bodily functions yet an adult might. Freud talked of ID, the wild child, the untamed, spoilt and dangerous, force of nature. War is easy. Peace requires so much more. To be drunk requires no effort but to be sober is a discipline.
Today there is devolution and deconstructivism. The Vietnam War left the west in the same confusion that came with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The age of rationalism devolved into the age of sentimentalism. There is a new embracing of the Rousseauian tradition of the "noble savage". Increasingly people would 'worship" Gaia, leave 'mother earth' 'unattended'. Self destruct in some toxic self centered notion that human kind is the problem not the solution. Fleeing from the work of adulthood we are imagining a utopian garden of Eden that requires at most our presence but not our direction. "Go with the flow". "Don't worry, be happy". Meanwhile the cities built on the basis of principles of yore are deteriorating without the continued maintenance or ideology that originated the world we too often take for granted but do not feel obliged to work for. We would all have the 'robots' , as yet a fantasy, or the third world servants, do the work while we escape to playstations, pornography, drugs and alcohol, gambling, television and the sensual distraction we were lead to believe we 'deserved."
Dreams of NASA , Universal Health Care, World Peace, United Nations, Sustainable Planet and Love are forgotten. We are increasingly living off the ideas and work of our forefathers and doing little to maintain or build on their dreams or to dream ourselves. Small mindedness flourishes and increasingly we see the world as accountants and economists see the world limited by their latest abacus, people a number tattooed on an arm. The very mindsets that were to serve the world arrogantly claim to be able to lead. So we live with the leadership of opinion polls and advertising campaigns wrapped in legal jargon that merely limits the creative and guarantees the least will be first in all the wrong ways of that transcendent equation. Instead of leadership of the divine child we have the leadership of the bastard child, the love child, the "omnipotent child", the 'puers eternus' .
An advertisement of Canadian "culture" show a beer swilling hockey fan. Yet the word culture comes from the German "kultura" which represented the "highest ideals" and "contributions" of the people. Only in the minds of the lowest greed driven marketer would Canadian culture be equated with a drunk. My Canada is a land of freedom, civilization coinciding with wilderness, north and south, east and west, the greatest achievements in mining and agriculture, transportation, communications, health, science and the arts. There's no beer swilling and yes we play hockey but our game of hockey isn't the brawling nonsense of tv but a game of genius endurance and skill like the native Lacrosse game that developed in this land of infinite beauty.
Principle is a word of that stuff. It's not a belch or a fart or raucous laughter in a library. It's robust and refined and speaks to the soul not just the heart and loins. It's a word that like it's English twin, principal, meaning first, leading, foremost and above all else. It's not a nether word but one that is transcendent and reaches down to lift us up. It refers to an ideal.
In the 1930's there was a belief that one could move forward and upward. Backwards led to diapers and drooling and yes that would come unbidden with old age if we lived long enough to experience it. In the meantime with effort we could stand up an live and up right existence. Forwards was the direction of progress.
Fundamentally the words of our lives have changed with the propagandistic use of language. Peace Missile. There is no need of peace with an enemy already missiled. Peace is what we make through changing an enemy to a friend. Peace is a word of us not me and yet the marketing minds would have us believe there can be something called a "peace" missile. Just like they'd have us believe in "jesus devils"and sell us "Gandhi combat dolls", or "Barbie nuns". Our forefathers understood irony and appreciated the use of language better than our alinear television generation.
The word principle to the men of AA in the 30's was a godly world. It spoke to the highest aspirations. It was beyond cynicism and part of the pragmatic idealism of a frankly spiritual program that made no bones about believing in a God whose power they trusted and whose will they would turn their lives over to. These are ideas foreign to our times but very understandable to a people who had come from the horror of world war and economic depression, the lies of debauched lives of booze and sexual misadventure, who had gambled and lost on the promises of the false world of "self will run riot" .
They turned to God and found him. In turn they talked of principles and asked what traits a 'godly' people would espouse. They also asked why and when had they rejected these very aspects of godliness. They asked their God in all humility to restore them to this path of Character.
Because "Character" to them was a nother such word as principle. Today we hardly differentiate it from personality. There are television personalities and 'characters' in movies but there is little talk of true character. What are the strengths of a person. True character is that which we most admire.
In the kernel of all was seen to be a God that Carl Jung referred to as the 'universal unconscious'. The Christian roots of AA said we were 'made in the image of God'. What did God look like and as a "child of God" what did I do that seemed to be in diapers or knuckle dragging and what did I do that reflected self control and upright behavior. What principles did my life reflect and what principles were my actions and what principles was my work reflecting and what character did I have. Those were the questions of the first AA's and indeed were the questions of the highest minded leaders of all time. Is might alone right or is there a purpose beyond just kill and be killed. Having faith there a God, what is my relationship to this God. Clearly I am not God.
On faith, the first steps of AA bring us to acceptance of God and a higher power and point to booze and drugs a symptom of our separation from higher power. As CS Lewis says , you don't find the architect in the walls of the building. The walls may point the way to the architect but they're not one in the same.
So Principle and Character are Godly words and as such need to be prayed for and reached for. In all humility they're not very evident when we come into the rooms of AA and they certainly weren't what we were looking for when we had the bottle in our hands. But if we don't know anything about principle and character in a positive way we can at least say with certainty what they were not. They were not where alcohol took us and not where where we had been. We just know they're not that 'way' so must be a different "way".
It's said in AA there's no platforms, 'you're either on the up elevator or the down elevator'. If you're not taking positive action on a daily basis then you're sliding backwards to the way you were before. And really do you want to go there.
Freud said there is life wish and death wish. Eros and thanatos. Live spelt backwards is evil. So you can live or die but living takes effort and care. If you don't water a plant it will die. Our new found spiritual life requires that daily attention. We reflect daily our the principles we want in our lives and the kind of character we would become. In daily prayer we ask God's guidance. Daily we pray " Thy Will not My Will be done."