We all have core values and principles that we claim to be guided by. They may have been instilled in us from an early age through religious or philosophical teachings, the influential actions of our elders, and our own lived experiences.
But how clear are we about them in our minds? Do we critically reflect on how aligned these values are with our behaviour and decisions? If so, what are the most effective ways to hold ourselves accountable? These are some motivating questions that set me on the journey of achieving greater clarity about my core values, and how I can strive to align my actions with them. The importance of this rests on the premise that so much of how we operate across our lives, is guided by the values we claim to believe in.
I thought I would take the time to share a brief overview of where I am currently at with this endeavour. This will take the form of a blog series, starting with my values statement and then proceeding to my efforts (including several failures) in bringing them to life. I want to stress that this work is ongoing. This series isn’t intended to be a rigorous academic effort, though as I’ll share from time to time, I have been influenced by a number of books. It is my deep hope that me sharing these windows into my life may be of value to you in some way. I’d also be open to any specific suggestions that you may have for me on the topics I’ll cover.
I think it is safe to say that our values (and our fortunes) are tightly linked with the bio-physical characteristics, belief systems, people, and environment that we are born in to. To be clear, this series isn’t intended to serve as a critique of value systems, or their origins. My intention here is to acknowledge that our personal contexts matter as they can drive what we do (or don’t) value e.g. our lifestyles, our political preferences.
My context is as follows. I am a heterosexual male who grew up across Sri Lanka, Malawi and Botswana. As far as I am aware, I was not born with any cognitive or physical impediments. Generally speaking, I’d describe my economic group as being upper-middle class. I was raised in a predominantly Buddhist family setting but have long identified as being agnostic. That is to say, I did not grow up with strong beliefs about a higher power or an after-life. Nor did I grow up with strict rituals around attending prayer groups and ceremonies. They were few and far between, especially when overseas. That being said, my general response to questions of God, an after-life or rebirth is… “I don’t know. I will concern myself with what I can control, and be responsible for”. Therefore, my personal philosophy has boiled down to a rather simple focus, “let me be the best person I can be across the time I have”. It stems from the view that being and doing good is inherently meaningful and rewarding.
Other signfiicant influences include my parents always seeking to support those worse off, growing up amongst nature, and not having much access or permission to accumulate a lot of “stuff”. This has influenced me to develop a sense of responsibility when it comes to helping others,to appreciate the beauty and value of nature, and have fewer materialist tendencies (happiness through buying).
Now that you have some context, let me move on to some specifics.
To live a life filled with meaningful relationships and contributions.
This ripples across all the roles I presently occupy within my life: husband, son, sibling, cousin, friend, colleague, educator, leader and citizen.
I find personal mission statements empowering. In my view, few endeavours can be more important and rewarding than thinking about what you want your life to be about. This has consequences for your wellbeing, as well as those around you. This statement has been a work in progress, I’ve gone through various interations over the years. I share this to emphasize that this is not a cause of having it “all figured out”. Rather, it is more about surfacing what feels salient and meaningful to you right now.
You’ll notice that I’ve kept my “mission” suitably broad, allowing my values to do more of the proverbial heavy lifting. This is just down to preference. Some of you might prefer a lot more specificity in your mission. For me, broad is good as my life has been a meandering path and I have numerous roles. This broad statement keeps me centered on two enduring priorities in my life, meaningful relationships and contributions. The former refers to the depth/quality of interactions with people, not necessarily the extent of a network. The latter refers to contributions in several forms, ranging from my time and attention, to insights and resources.
For those of you who might be curious about an activity/process that might be able to help you surface a mission statement. I can recommend writing your eulogy, it is a powerful tool to consider what you want your life to represent.
Here is a brief overview of my core values. For the sake of brevity, I’ll offer short explainations of my interpretation of these values and offer examples. Naturally, these values intersect and complement each other. There can also be tensions (value conflicts).
This is an overarching value that governs my yearning for a world that is more socially, economically and ecologically just.
Underpining this value are principles of equality (e.g. racial and gender) and equity/fairness (e.g. needs of marginalized groups, other species, future generations).
This involves positioning and involving myself across a number of critical issues such as wealth and income inequality, poverty, gender equality, race quality, eco-system degradation, climate change, Indigneous rights, assylum seekers and refugees. Actions here could involve educating myself about these issues, joining groups that address these issues, donating to causes, establishing causes, and voting for policy platforms that advance positive action in these areas.
Caring for our common home
This value centres on a sense of responsibility to be a steward for the eco-systems that humans and other species depend on.
This influences my consumption habits as a consumer, the causes I involve myself in, and the policies I supoort as a citizen.
An attitude of trying to listen and empathise with those I interact with, especially with those I have disagreements with.
Reminding myself to listen and let advice giving take a back-seat.
Trying to choose the kindest course of action e.g. when giving feedback, or setting boundaries.
Maintaining integrity across relationships i.e. not being a chameleon.
Having the courage to be truthful, especially if there is a lot at stake e.g. someone’s wellbeing.
Framing honesty as a responsibility we have to each other, but we also have a responsibility (as above) to be kind in how we engage in honest conversation.
To be generous with my time, attention, knowledge and resources. This however, does not imply that this generosity is unrestricted. It entails a commitment to discern where my generosity would be of greater value e.g. in relation to donations, time with family and friends.
A commitment to expand the depth and breadth of my knowledge and experience through engaging in activities such as : reading, watching dramas and films, listening to talks, learning new skills, visiting new places, meeting new people, engaging in thoughtful conversations
Thank you so much for taking the time to read through this first post! I’d love to get your thoughts on this subject matter. For instance, do you have such a statement or an alternative practice to align yourselves with your values? Do you have any suggestions or challenges that you’d like to share? I’ll leave you with the gorgeous words of the poet Mary Oliver (from Summer Days):
"Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”