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Ability and Accountability: Thoughts on the 4th Principle

Rev. Carol Bodeau, Minister

Recently, I spoke in a Sunday service about the Fourth Principle of Unitarian Universalism: The Free and Responsible Search for Truth and Meaning. During that service, which was focused around my own spiritual journey, I shared that I have long experienced life through the eyes of a mystic. I also shared that I am what can be called an “intuitive” (sometimes called “psychic.”) During the sermon, I spoke about how important it is to me not to try to convince others to share my perspectives, but rather to hear the wisdom that comes from experiences different from my own. This, I said, is at the center of our UU values—that we each have a valuable and important voice to offer about our own search for truth and meaning.

Following the service, a wise listener pointed out to me that it might be a little disconcerting to have your minister be ‘psychic.’ What, she wondered, might I know or see about you that you don’t know I know, or don’t want me to know? It is an excellent question, and the answer lies in that same Fourth Principle. My answer to this question is that I see nothing I am not invited, explicitly, to see. Beyond the basic emotional intelligence required of all ministers, I am very conscious of ‘turning off’ my deeper intuition unless asked to use it. One of the great benefits of having been trained by teachers in traditions that honor such mystical gifts and abilities, is that they taught me ethics and good manners about using them. In the Fourth Principle, we hear that our search for truth and meaning is both free and responsible. Though we often focus on the “free” part, we can sometimes have a tendency to forget the part about “responsibility.”

As participants in a tradition that calls us to honor each person’s path, we are also required to do so with respect, good ethical practices, and some sense of accountability for how we engage in our own search. Though I may have the ability to look deeply with my intuition, I have the responsibility to do so with the highest integrity and respect for the privacy and personal choices of others. This same is true of any personal spiritual or ideological path or practice. We are all responsible to pursue our truths in ways that honor and respect the others around us. And we are accountable to one another for such ethical behavior.

What this means, in practical terms, is that we must find ways to share our ideas without force, but with invitation and openness. We must welcome others’ views respectfully, whether we agree or not, and provide a space for them to share. And we must never belittle the paths or practices that are unfamiliar to us, if we hope to have our own paths and practices treated well. Beneath it all, the Golden Rule holds true: let us treat others as we wish to be treated. Let us balance our abilities with accountability, and our freedom with a sense of shared responsibility. This balance in turn creates communities of strength despite difference, and allows power through diversity.

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