In my book The Power of Principled Inclusion, I discuss the place of our personal principles in shaping both our internal sense of ourselves and our relationship to outer world, being all those we encounters and with whom we interact. I stress the importance of each of us always being as aware as we can be of the affect our principles have on those around us. The question is whether we are we each aware of our values, whether we are we considering how our principles are consistent and congruent with our values, and whether we are we properly emphasizing our values in a congruent way.
Considering these issues in the context of Women’s History we can clearly see the interplay of the role of values and the role of principles. We find a good example in Abigail Adams, the wife of the second American President, John Adams, and the mother of the sixth American President, John Quincy Adams. In her day, women were considered the chattel (personal property) of their husbands. They had little if any of the rights that women of today have. They could not vote. They could not own or control property. Their husbands could inflict certain punishments on their wives and their conjugal rights meant that a wife did not get to decide when she had sex with her husband. Abigail Adams is known to have disclosed her personal feelings that women should be given more rights in all fields, yet it is clear that she accepted her limited role. Even though she was the wife the President she had to accept that the principles might not fully reflect her values. It is doubtful that she could have been more influential had she used more forceful principles to express her values. To be sure, she must have felt that she had to restrain her principles given her position and the position that both men and women were taking as regards the rights of women.
We can fast forward to the life of the legendary First Lade Eleanor Roosevelt. She is known for her progressive views on the rights of minorities. As she assumed the role of First Lady she became the spokesperson for inclusion and personal rights, but that is not the way she lived or expressed herself in the earlier times of her marriage to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Before 1911 she is known to have expressed that she did not support women’s suffrage until her husband came out and supported it. She did not become fully involved in the women’s suffrage movement until after the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was enacted on August 18, 1920. In her early years she accepted her position as the dutiful wife with a limited role in her own right. With time that changed. Perhaps her values changed with time, but it is more likely that she simply came to understand that she could express her principles more effectively consistently as the rights of women became more recognizable in the early twentieth century.
We are all an interplay of various values and principles that must change as situations reasonably allow. For famous suffrages such as Susan B. Anthony the values that they held could not be restrained by more “reasonable” principles. That does not mean that they were necessarily more effective than someone like Eleanor Roosevelt. The power of principled inclusion is always situational and unique to each individual. To be truly powerful means to be aware as possible of your personal values always looking to refine their internal expression and their external manifestation. We are all a work in progress.