In our age of instant gratification in which our primary interaction with the world and society is at the push of a button, where social media trends sweep up political naysayers and negate nuance, and sex, shopping and a sense of identity is acquired by logging on, the concepts of knowing one’s values can seem redundant.
An archaic blast from the past that your Granddad spoke of while decrying television, the modern theme of divorced parents and how footballers shouldn’t wear gloves.
It suffices to say that contemporary family values have changed since the war generation, but what to? Could you bring to mind a set of values you live by now? Give it a go… It’s not as easy as you may think.
Further, the world has changed greatly; huge social upheaval has challenged and in many cases subsumed traditional cultural, social and gender roles.
Our identity as human beings is in flux, science tells us new things about our physicality, while social sciences challenge and even fetishize uniqueness and politics draws ever closer to the powder-keg of neoliberal consensus, while culture is becoming more fluid and less easy to define.
To keep up with all this, to be on the ‘right side of history’ and to remain cognisant of one’s identity when it is in a constant state of flux is exhausting, often contradictory and, in the end, impossible.
This striving for changing external coordinates in an effort to define the self is destructive. It leads to tribalism, partisanship and a shaky foundation on which to find peace with one’s place in the world.
This external striving is a source of discontent. It fosters an anxiety that one should be right as opposed to following the reason of the mind which is backed up with a solid heart.
How do you build heart?
Well, it is here we come to values. Values strive for the eternal, not the ephemeral. They are ties that guide us through the stormy world with its tangled wires, media appeals to emotion and ever present drive for instant gratification.
Maybe Granddad had a point after all, yet Granddad’s world has gone. So how do you start in defining your values now?
Firstly, it is more complicated than asking your family members or friends ‘what are my values?’ and further practicing this will avail you of the struggle, effort and confusion that will reap rewards if one is persistent and thorough.
Secondly, it requires more than sitting down with a pad and pen in a café, people watching, scribbling down how you may believe in justice because you’re against the Iraq war, the dropping of the atom bomb or Justin Bieber being famous.
The amazing thing about human beings is there’s intuition deep within us that is oft drowned out by the noise of our lives. One quick way of accessing this intuition is asking oneself in any given difficult and troubling situation ‘what would a healthy person do right now?’
It is not that the person asking the question is un- ’healthy’, yet the ego is often the loudest in our inner dialogue with ourselves, and this question serves to cut through self-centredness with its biases and offer an objective insight into your situation.
However, this insight will not be quite enough in defining true, deep and supportive values.
For these we require vigilance, an awareness of thought and emotion and a discipline to peacefully monitor oneself despite the noise of the day.
So try this: live your life for a week exactly as you would normally. Don’t change ANYTHING and certainly don’t try and live in a way that is more just than previously. Be as you are.
The only thing you will need is a pen, paper and your perception.
As you go about each day, allow yourself to feel, acknowledge how given situations made you feel, and simply jot down the people involved, the situation and the feelings it aroused in you.
At the end of each day, take 30 minutes to review these instances and feelings. Ask why you felt the way you did in a given situation. Did somebody annoy you, please you, or make you pity them? If so, explore why you felt these feelings; at the root of them will be an inner value.
Here’s an example:
SITUATION: I snapped at him at work for asking stupid questions a lot
FEELING: Moderate guilt, felt mean because it made him quiet and insular
Now we have a situation and the following feelings, it becomes easier to see that John being in an insular state at work is not something that sits well with me, nor is biting at him for his inquisitive nature (even if he was going overboard).
Next I must ask why does this cause me to feel guilt and why do I feel bad making John quiet and insular?
Answer: I feel guilty because I do not want to be overbearing to people at work, I’d rather have a calm atmosphere. I feel mean because John is an anxious young man who is eager to please, I know he works best when he feels able to ask questions and isn’t lost in his own thoughts, fearful of speaking out for fear of getting it wrong. I want to nurture him at work so he develops in a way that is good for us both.
Value of values
I believe in a civil working atmosphere, one in which people should be free to engage in open, trusting discussion, however inane, in the pursuit of growth.
By practising this throughout the week, in all manner of situations, it becomes easier and easier to build a solid picture of inner values, while offering free insights into elements of my identity as a sort of bonus.
Just try it, see how you feel after a week, and see how you respond the next time you are thrown into our world of quick decisions and morphing social opinions.
It will bring a steadiness and a calmness to your self and your day which acts as a deep rooted rock that allows you to converse with others in a controlled, confident and receptive way.