To Bend without Breaking

“When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else … you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.” - Eleanor Roosevelt

Principles are the vertebrae that form the backbone of life. They constitute our integrity; they make actionable our values. Principles are what great men and women turn to when facing tough decisions. Principles enable us to be consistent, wise, dependable, and strong. Principles are the promises we make to ourselves for how we want to live our lives. When people talk about “walking your talk” or “practicing what you preach,” they’re talking about living out your principles.

But just as important as the discipline to stick to principles is the flexibility to bend them according to circumstances. A backbone that never moves becomes brittle. Like the spine, principles need to be exercised, bent, and flexed in order to be effective in action. The question is how much.

For all of their supposed integrity, overly principled people can be brittle, awkward, dogmatic, and lonely. They can seem brash, arbitrary, and holier than thou. Yet, overly flexible people can be inconsistent, undisciplined, lost, and flaky.

The key, it seems, is to be like steel on the inside–principled, disciplined, uncompromising, strong, and resolute–and silk on the outside–flexible, adaptable, chameleonic, and relatable. There’s a fine balance between being disrespectfully spartan and submissively adaptive. The former risks alienation; the latter risks indignity. To bend without breaking is to achieve harmony between principle and flexibility.

 
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