Monday, December 03, 2007

The Price of Principles.

The other day when I blogged about principles, I said I don’t often find evidence of real strong principles in most kids, not the code of honor sort of kind, anyway. (Okay, I’ve seen displays of three kids out of hundreds choose to stick by a principle when it was tried.)Well, to prove me wrong, I just had a discussion with a kid yesterday.

To make a long story short, he lied to me and was perfectly comfortable (if a little teary-eyed) lying to me. But when I pointed out that the week before he had promised such and such, the dramatics completely disappeared.

"I promised?" he asked, in the same tone one would say Oh, shit, really?

It totally cracked me up, because in this kid’s value system, he may be comfortable with lying, but breaking a promise, to him, is way in his never-do category. I do wish he would include lying in that category, but I was so proud of such a strong principle at his age, I wanted to hug him right there and then.

I’ve always been fascinated by those in history who have been willing to die--or have died--for their principles or for a truth or a belief.

And we can never really know until we’re tried, but I wonder what principles, if any, I’d be willing to die for. It’s easy (relatively) to die to protect someone else, but to die for a principle? I wonder about that often.

In my estimation, principles have a price. Truth, for example, costs little when it risks little. But if your grade hung on it, if your school hung on it, if your life hung on it, if your family’s life hung on it ... then each person has to decide how much they are willing to pay for their principle.

That, I suspect, is the hardest thing to teach a child.

(You knew I was really talking about writing, right?)

When we force our characters to consider the costs of their principles, their true colors show. And for us authors, the inverse is true: in order to show our character’s character, we have to force them to decide the cost of their principles.

What’s with the deep thoughts, lately? Can you tell I’m in the middle of working through my story in my mind, LOL?

14 bonus scribbles:

Edie 12/03/2007 07:34:00 PM  

Hey, Spy, have you been peeking at my story? It's all about characters standing up for principles--and for their friends. No wonder I loved writing it. :)

Bailey Stewart 12/03/2007 08:09:00 PM  

Those are questions down Aidan that we struggle with Aidan, I said get down not only in writing, but in our everyday lives. Good post. I have to go kill a cat now.

spyscribbler 12/03/2007 09:11:00 PM  

LOLOL, Edie! I haven't, but you make me wish I did have a peek!

ROFLMAO, Bailey! I know that feeling. I have an Aidan, too! And you're right about everyday life. I've been curious what my principles are, LOL.

Aimless Writer 12/04/2007 07:15:00 AM  

A victim of an Irish Catholic mother I think my principals were scrubbed into my brain with a good dose of guilt.
I think our heros are always the ones who live up to their principals no matter how we torture them.
Great post!

Bernita 12/04/2007 08:20:00 AM  

I'm working though that very same thing!

StarvingWriteNow 12/04/2007 11:03:00 AM  

I'm glad you posted about this. A story idea I have had for some time is definitely about principle and this gives me some cool stuff to think about. Thanks!

Wendy Roberts 12/04/2007 11:58:00 AM  

Great post. I think it would be great to ask the "principle" question of all my characters.

Erica Orloff 12/04/2007 04:34:00 PM  

I agree with Aimless (minus the Catholic mother). Living up to principles despite what gets thrown your way is the ultimate test of character.

I think of that scene in Rooster Cogburn where the villians are shooting at Kate Hepburn--shooting right at her--and she just recites the 23rd psalm over and over.

The book that defined this for me is Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, which was written after his time in Auschwitz and the murder, there, of his wife and family. He took principles of Nietzche, namely, if you know the WHY of your existence, you can endure anything. Do you live for your children? Your faith? Your love affair? Figure out why it is you live, really at the core of your being, and you can endure and nto turn your human grace over to anyone. Your dignity and grace are yours alone to hand over to someone else. They cannot be robbed from you. Even in the most dire of situations. Now, LIVING that is no easy task, but good principles seldom are.

avery,  12/05/2007 02:45:00 PM  

I'd have an easier time sticking with my principles if it were only my life on the line. If it were my family or friends, I'd change my tune in a heartbeat to keep them safe.

My novel deals greatly with the principles of two of the major characters and the protagonist's total lack of them, and the fallout from each adhering to their ways. You're right; examining the strength of our character's moral fiber definitely yields a lot of information for relatively little effort.

spyscribbler 12/05/2007 02:46:00 PM  

LOL, Aimless. That'll do it! Definitely true about heroes; I want my heroine to be a hero!

Bernita, the thing I love about the internet, is you never, ever feel alone!

Writenow, that's cool. Sounds like a good story! I really need to put principles into this one. Good luck with yours!

spyscribbler 12/05/2007 02:47:00 PM  

Wendy, thanks! I've never done it before, but it's clear to me that I should start!

spyscribbler 12/05/2007 02:51:00 PM  

Erica, I am so lucky I met you. I treasure every word you write.

I've never seen that movie, but I've read a couple of Kate Hepburn's biographies, and I find the woman herself to be an inspiring example.

Man's Search for Meaning is on my list to read now. I'm starting to suspect I might be having an existential crisis, LOL. Those are words to think about and digest for awhile.

spyscribbler 12/05/2007 02:53:00 PM  

Me, too, Avery. Wow, your novel and that situation sounds like a wealth of conflict and story.

Gosh, I suddenly feel like such a shallow writer. Heck, maybe even person, LOL.

Erica Orloff 12/05/2007 02:58:00 PM  

A good existential crisis is a sign of growth. At least that's what I tell myself. LOL!