Lesson #7: Your values
Beyond right and wrong
Humans from a wide range of cultures and traditions have a long history of dividing the world into “good” and “bad” or “right” and “wrong.” We hold certain beliefs or behaviors as unquestionable and sacrosanct, while we make others forbidden and shameful.
This tendency of ours can have its merits. It helps societies root themselves and coalesce around shared principles and codes. It clearly announces to individuals that certain behaviors – for example, murder – are unequivocally unacceptable. There are some areas in which there just isn’t, shouldn’t, and can’t be room for debate or equivocation.
But these areas of widespread moral agreement obscure a more difficult and perhaps disorienting truth: there is a rich world of gray in between those things that can be nearly universally deemed “good” or “bad.” What is “good” from my perspective, might be “bad” from another’s, and vice versa. Or many things might be both good and bad, or neither.
Each of us is guided by our own unique, personal values. These values define what we as individuals truly prioritize and seek in life as well as what we deem “good” and “bad.” They give shape to the person we want to be and the world we want to create. One might value collaboration, while another might value competition. One might value peace, while another might value challenge. One might value gentleness, while another might value ferocity.
One’s values are in a sense inarguable. If one values something and then lives their life accordingly, who is anyone to really protest? A value cannot be right or wrong, so long as it is held with intentionality and in good faith. We all get to define for ourselves what we truly value and believe is right and good.
Our values are a third core ingredient of our genius, along with our passions and talents. On our journey, if passion is the fuel and talent is the vehicle, our values are the compass that orients us in the right direction for our own unique quest. With our core values clearly articulated within ourselves, we better find our way back to true north.
All you need is love?
When one ponders their own personal core values, “love” is often the first thing that comes to mind. Indeed, The Beatles famously declared “All you need is love.” And they were right, in a way. Love is perhaps the most life-affirming, glorious, and important thing in all existence. It pervades our most meaningful relationships and our happiest moments. It is the bedrock of any fulfilled person or prospering society.
And yet, “love” is not always a great personal core value.
Curating our own list of personal values is critical in defining what we most prioritize in life. And we should all probably value love quite highly if not more than anything. But our personal values are equally important in defining how each of us is unique. The most powerful values are those that both showcase what we truly cherish most and set us apart in our own brilliant, unique genius. They help us understand our specific roles and journeys. They help us capture our distinguishing essence. “Love” is likely too universal and all-encompassing to serve that purpose well.
The Beatles were wrong, in a way. We often need more than just pure love. Each of us has our own favorite flavors of love and life that we gravitate to, take solace in, and ultimately value more than others. And each of us has a unique, brilliant genius that yearns to be expressed, seen, and put to good use.
Knowing our values beyond love helps us do just that. Through them, we come to know and live through the core principles that bring us alive and truly make us us.
List of core values
There is a near-infinite list of values one might hold. In fact, it is often empowering to invent your own values and make them as quirky and you as possible. With that said, often, some, most, or all of our core values can be curated from the list of common core values below.
- Will power
Values and integrity
We have described change as transformation built through three core processes: 1) cultivating well-being, 2) driving well-doing, and 3) practicing integrity. Likewise, we have described genius as having at least three core ingredients: 1) passions, 2) talents, and 3) values. These two triads and their component parts directly inform and flow into one another. Passions are a critical resource particularly for cultivating well-being. Through them, we refill our batteries and kindle our internal fires. Talents are often a key resource for driving well-doing. Through them, we often can make our highest contribution to the world.
Similarly, our values are inherently interwoven with our integrity. In fact, practicing integrity can be thought of as the process of embodying our aspirational values. It’s pretty easy to state that your core values are generosity, peace, or courage, for example. It’s another thing entirely to truly live by those principles. We are all constantly being challenged, stretched, and thrown off balance by the realities of the world.
Embodying our values is a continuous, lifelong practice. First, we state our values. Then we spend our lives trying to better embody and actualize them. When we do actualize them, we can say that we are living with integrity.
Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words.
Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior.
Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits.
Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values.
Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.
Shadow, aspirational & actualized values
Many, if not most, of us state values that we don’t truly live by yet. Likewise, many of us live by values that have not been stated at all. We are largely unaware of them and their power in our lives. They control us unconsciously. For example, we might believe and say that we value generosity, peace, and courage, but actually live by frugality, striving, and agreeableness. These shadow values are often driven by fear and shame and guide our very worst behaviors. They tell us what our ego, pain body, or child consciousness most value. But these shadow values can also be a place of deep beauty, aspects of our genius so powerful and brilliant that we deem ourselves unworthy of them. For example, the world may see us consistently choosing to act with courage, but we may not yet be able to see and claim that courage within ourselves.
Understanding our values then is not simply about thinking through what we believe ourselves to value most. It is delving into ourselves and honestly examining our thoughts and behaviors in order to gauge what we actually value in practice. Do we truly embody the values we purport to live by? If not, what do we make more important? What shadow values rule our lives unknowingly? Do we wish to deprogram them? Or do we wish to bring them into the light so they can shine more brightly?
- On our journey of change, our values are our compass guiding us to our true north, informing what we want to embody within ourselves and what we hope to instill in the world
- Aspirational values are the stated principles that we hope and intend to live by
- Shadow values are the hidden principles that most inform our actions in reality