The Principle, Not The Person

John Algeo – USA

Theosophy is not just a collection of intellectual abstractions. It is a prescription for living. Every Theosophical idea implies a form of Theosophical action. If we think about even a few of the basic Theosophical concepts, their practical applications are obvious.

For example, if we accept reincarnation, we should have no prejudices about other cultures or nations or the other sex, because in the past we have been born in other cultures and nations and as the other sex, and we will be so born again in the future. Similarly, if we accept karma, we should never consciously harm another, because every action we do returns to us in a similar form. Of course, open-mindedness and harmlessness are prescribed by ethical systems all over the world, but Theosophy provides a reasoned basis for practicing those virtues.

 In addition to such obvious connections between ideas and actions, subtler ones also exist. The Theosophical distinction between our individualities and our personalities implies that we should respond to ourselves and others as spiritual individuals, not as material persons. As material persons, we all make mistakes. But focusing on personal mistakes—either our own or others’—does not correct them but only intensifies their energy and thus their potential harmfulness. Instead, when we recognize personal mistakes—in ourselves or in others—our response should be positive, with a focus on a spiritual principle than counteracts the material flaw.

Positive responses to mistakes have a sound Theosophical basis, but such responses have also been recognized in the traditional theory and practice of rhetoric and debate. Arguments that are ad hominem, that is, directed “to the person” and are therefore emotional in nature, are eschewed by careful writers and speakers. It is better to focus calmly and rationally on an underlying spiritual principle that can improve a mistake. Arguments that are ad rationem, that is, directed to a reasonable principle, are logical and helpful in achieving a positive result. Therefore, in every discussion, our motto should be “The principle, not the person.”