Principle 9 Liberty 1

Principle 9, first week
I find this principle astoundingly audacious. I love how, with a small handful of words, it challenges me, not only to rethink my ideas about morality, and ethics but also my relationship to others, the world, and myself. Another exciting thing is how it raises all these issues about the principles themselves, their purpose, how to use them, etc. That’s a lot of stuff — on top of the practical wisdom present by the principle even reading it in the simplest terms. Why do I say all this? I’ll try to clarify that a bit in the current document, and in the following weeks. For now let’s recap for those unfamiliar with what all the fuss is about.

First time here? Then you should know…
Every month we focus one of the 12 Principles of Valid Action. These acan be found in Chapter 13 of the book, The Inner Look. Each week we look at a different aspect of that principle. This week’s principle is #9, The Principle of Liberty” it says: “When You Harm Others You Remain Enchained, But If You Do Not Harm Anyone You May Freely Do Whatever You Want”.

We take the time to think and talk about each principle, not just in order to understand it in itself, but also to begin to reflect more rigorously about our behaviour. These principles, or guidelines, or however you think of them are elements that we can form into a discipline which can be practiced at every moment and in every circumstance. They are a kind of dynamic meditation. With time and application these efforts will give all my activities a particular tone, mood, and mental direction. Our goal is to weave these general ideas that you can weave together into a coherent style of life.

Coming up:
In the next weeks we’ll look at how we applied, or could have applied, this principle in the past, how we apply this principle in the present moment, and how we have might apply it in the future. Here are some general considerations about this principle. In order to illustrate various aspects of the principles I’ve drawn ideas from conversations with various people, as well as from materials we created over the years. If I know who to credit for these contributions I will.

Back to our theme:
One of the first things we might notice is that this principle starts off telling us that we are “enchained” and that making problems for other people leaves us in that situation. That is, treating others badly somehow blocks or impedes one’s liberating oneself. The principle then makes a radical proposal, arguably the most revolutionary one possible. It disregards all the conventional moral codes, all the ‘shoulds’, and ‘should nots’, all the ‘musts’ and ‘must nots’ and instead it says we are free to do whatever, given one condition, that we are not harming anyone.

I know very wise people who tell me the principle doesn’t actually mean that we can do whatever we want. They feel it has limitations that just aren’t spelled out. Sorry guys, for my part I don’t see it that way. I understand this principle quite literally — don’t harm people and do what you like. (Period). But that’s me. The principle of free interpretation tells us (as someone who hurt many, many people once said,) “let 1,000 flowers bloom”. *

Of course, there are nuances, and of course now we are left trying to figure out what it means to “harm” someone. Like with the other principles this one doesn’t provide any pat answers, rather it indicates a certain direction. By taking the other principles into account, meditating on our accumulated experience, and clarifying our registers we can learn to turn to ourselves for those answers. What a great lesson that would be to learn!

A tale to tell:
Here’s a familiar story that, from a probably unexpected direction, casts some light on this teaching of radical freedom.

Jesus said, “Do not judge so you will not be judged. Because by the judgment you judge in the same way you will be judged and by the measurement with which you measure so will you be measured.”

In this way he showed that the harm done to one’s neighbour is also harm for the one who has done it.

It happened that Jesus was sitting and eating in the company of publicans and sinners, because there were many among his followers. His enemies seeing this said to followers, “How is it that your master eats and drinks with such people.” Hearing this Jesus told them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the one who is ill.”

One Sabbath evening as they passed through a field his disciples picked some of the heads of grain. His enemies said to them, “why do you do what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man. Man was not made for the Sabbath.” He explained many things and he said to them, “Go, but first learn what the holy scripture mean when they tell us: ‘It is Mercy I desire not sacrifice’.”

And in Conclusion:
These notes have been sent to the email list of The Community of Silo’s Message Toronto Annex, and posted on Facebook, as well as on my blog at

We’d all love to hear your comments, thoughts about, considerations of, or artwork inspired by, any of this.

And this time even a footnote!
*He actually said, “The policy of letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend is designed to promote the flourishing of the arts and the progress of science”. It was Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong and he should have taken his own advice.