What is a value?
“In everything I do, whether in business, philanthropy or my personal life, I am guided by my inner truth, my values.”
The starting point for the entirety of this book and all of its essays hinge on one question, and that question is this: What is a value? Let’s take a stab at answering this seemingly simple, but relatively complex question. On the surface, values are the ideas and feelings about the things that are the most important to your in your life. The things you value drive the principles you live your life by and the things that you live your life for. For example, a soldier in the military likely values service to his or her country. This value then leads the individual to engage in activities to ensure that which is valued (the country) is protected. This is a very simple example of how values can drive a person, but the reality is that our values systems are often much more complex.
This complexity is worse so when we throw a monkey wrench like addiction or other destructive behavior into things. The pleasure circuit activated in addiction and other pleasurable activities has a way of completely sabotaging even the strongest of values that we hold to be the most dear to us. It is the reason that people engage in short term pleasure when they know that it may jeopardize their long term success. The pleasure circuit overwhelms us sometimes even in subtle ways. Think about the last time you were trying to go on a diet or change your eating habits to be a bit healthier. You go to the grocery store to buy some vegetables and more healthy food only to find yourself sitting in your car 15 minutes later on the way home devouring that candy bar that the grocery store so maliciously placed at the check-out. You feel a sense of guilt because you value being healthy, but you just made a decision contrary to what your values are. This feeling that you experience in response to violating your own sense of values can do one of two things. It can either springboard you to try again or it can lead to you simply saying “to Hell with it.” One way has the potential to lead you in a healthy direction, while the other is guaranteed to cause you to fail to live up to your values.
Our values lead us to action. Action is the combination of effort and direction towards a goal. While this seems like a straight forward process, it is not as we can see in the example of the candy bar.
So, I ask you this question: What is it you want?
Usually our wants will shed some light on our personal values. In case you are drawing a blank, here are a few examples of some things that people may value:
- Loved Ones
- Healthy Community
- A Sense of Control
- Honesty and Trust
- The Ability to Take Responsibility
- Being Creative
- Relationship with God/Higher Power
- Making a Contribution in the World
- Being Comfortable
- Being Treated Fairly
- Financial Security
- Being a Good Parent
- Taking Care of Others
- Being Liked
- Being Independent
- Being Healthy
- Having Peace and Quiet
- Having a Purpose
- Enjoying One’s Work
- Avoiding Pain
- Having and Important Position
Do any of these stand out to you? How do the values you identify impact what goals you set for yourself? Are your actions and choices reflecting what you value?
I invite you to explore these questions and others as we move further into looking at the nature of personal values and the power they hold in our lives to move us towards positive change and growth.