10 signs you’re a strongly principled person—even when no one is watching

In our turbulent “self-serving” times, many believe that there aren’t any principled people left in the world anymore. 

I beg to differ. As a journalist, I regularly come across amazing people who pledge to follow their principles—despite personal risk. 

Take Masih Alinejad, for example. The Iranian-American human rights activist is determined to support women who refuse to wear the mandatory hijab and shed light on the barbaric regime, despite the fact that there have been numerous assassination attempts on her life. 

Then there’s Pashtana Dorani, an Afghan exile who is conducting education programs under the radar for girls in Afghanistan where education for females has been abolished by the Taliban. 

But it’s not just high-profile advocates who are highly principled. There are people from all walks of life who are determined to conduct their lives by a set of values that are intrinsic to their identity. 

What are these values? Here are ten that could very well apply to you. 

1) You try to live life beyond yourself 

You don’t have to make waves in the world like Masih Alinejad or Pashtana Dorani to have principles—but you are determined to make the world a little better. 

For instance, many people sponsor a child from a third-world country who doesn’t have access to clean water, wholesome food, and school supplies.

I happen to sponsor an eight-year-old girl from India and it is wonderful to get regular updates on how she is thriving with the little that I am doing for her and her family. 

Others have an affinity for animals and are advocates for them. These people take it upon themselves to research and find out what they need to know about organizations that stand up for animal rights. 

They volunteer and organize fundraisers to spread the word and get the message across. 

2) You don’t do it for the recognition 

People with principles don’t join human rights groups and the like to get any recognition for what they do. 

They have a basic sense of decency and the reward is in the work they’re doing. They follow their heart and do what they feel is right

They also understand that recognition is more about the recipient than it is about them. 

It’s important not to look for aggrandizement—whether it’s at work or in your personal life—says Roy Saunderson, Chief Learning Officer and founder of Rideau’s Recognition Management Institute. 

“The easiest way to ensure that your recognition is more about the recipient rather than yourself is to think less about yourself and more about other people,” says Saunderson.

3) Fairness is fundamental to you 

One of the main moral codes of behavior that principled people live by is the idea of fairness. 

They deeply believe in treating people equally, whatever their background or circumstances in life. Fairness is vital to them because the value promotes trust and respect. 

Fairness can look like anything from respecting your neighbors to standing up for what’s right if you see someone being treated unfairly rather than looking the other way. 

4) You stand up for what’s right

Martin Luther King famously said that “a man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice.”

These could be everyday things such as noticing that your boss rather rudely interrupted a someone who was trying to get her point across during a meeting. 

A principled person will interject and politely let the boss know that the woman was still speaking. 

“You can’t know whether someone will show gratitude or resistance when you raise a red flag,” says Carmen Acton, a writer for Harvard Business Review. 

“But it’s important to not focus on their reaction too much,” Acton says. “Remember that keeping quiet allows a potentially harmful behavior to continue and can negatively impact everyone—especially those who are in junior positions.”

5) You believe that conflict can be constructive

signs youre a strongly principled person even when no ones watching 1 10 signs you’re a strongly principled person—even when no one is watching

Most people tend to avoid conflicts at all costs. It’s understandable: we’re worried that conflict will harm our relationships and make it hard to carry on in the environment where the conflict happened. 

A person with strong principles will have different views about conflict and confrontation, says self-development writer Nathan Falde

“You won’t go out of your way to seek it out…but in general, you would prefer to lay your cards on the table when you feel you have something important to express or are dissatisfied with someone else’s behavior in some way,” she says.

“You believe it’s better to get it all out into the open where it can be resolved, even if it leads to some hurt feelings in the beginning.”

Conflict is a natural part of life: some are caused by misunderstandings, while others are about protecting and defending yourself when you believe you’ve been treated unfairly or disrespectfully.  

“It’s important to stand up for your rights, and let the possibility of conflict stop you from doing so.”

People with principles are self-aware enough to understand that discussing disagreements and disappointments can actually help rather than hurt their personal and professional relationships in the long terms. 

6) Principled people don’t take things personally 

Falde finds that one of the best characteristics for a strongly-principled person is that they tend not to personalize their disputes

“This means that you don’t see the people you’ve had conflict with as hopelessly wrong or irredeemable,” she says. “You want to correct or resolve the situation, and it is your expectation that you can do so without any hard feelings developing.”

7) You don’t cave when it comes to consistency

Consistency is a key principle to have because it shows that you have self-discipline and self-control.

In other words, you’re reliable and trustworthy; you aren’t at the mercy of your moods. In the face of challenges, you’re constant in your truth. 

It also means doing what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it, says Patricia Oriaku, lead content specialist at Redstiletos Media. 

“It means your actions should match your words,” she says. “Consistency allows for measurement, creates accountability, establishes your reputation, makes you relevant and maintains your message.” 

8) You accept the consequences of your actions 

It’s a misconception that highly principled people never make mistakes. Of course, they do. 

The difference is they live life more consciously and they accept that there are consequences for mistakes and missteps. They’re emotionally mature enough to take responsibility. 

They don’t see this as a negative thing: instead, they try to come away with a sense of learning and growth. 

The point is that people who are principled are committed to doing what is right—even when it’s difficult. 

9) You know that nothing happens overnight

There’s a reason why philosophers described patience as a virtue.

This one is a hard one for me, and it’s a trait that I have to cultivate over and over again.

As a journalist, I am always pitching story ideas to editors. Waiting to find out if the story will happen—something that can take weeks or even months—can be a bit nerve-wracking. 

Then I’m waiting for interviews to happen and then when the story is written and edited, I’m waiting for it to be published. I love the field, but holy waiting!

When the waiting gets intense (such as waiting to see if an important source will come through), I’ve learned to distract myself and focus on another task, or go for a walk to clear my head. 

Having the principle of patience means that you have the ability—and have trained yourself—to remain calm, even when you’ve been waiting for a long time for something. 

It could mean that you have been able to tolerate dealing with something that is happening at a painstakingly slow pace. 

Or perhaps you have been teaching others how patience is part and parcel of the manifestation process. 

This is a key value to have in life as it teaches not only tolerance but also acceptance. 

10) Integrity is ingrained in you 

Principled people follow a set of non-negotiable values that are intrinsic to who they are—in other words, they have integrity

They’re honest about who they are, making sound decisions, and leading by example. 

I love this quote by award-winning author Dr. Lynne Namka: “Integrity is the ability to accept one’s past choices and actions and go forth and act in accordance with one’s deepest values from within.”

As another anonymous writer puts it: “When your integrity is on display, you inspire a movement of truth and inspiration. You become a model of change.”

Picture of Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has been published by The Globe & Mail, ELLE USA, ELLE Canada, British Vogue, Town & Country, and others.

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