Good and bad
Humans across cultures have a long history of dividing the world into “good” and “bad” or “right” and “wrong.” This tendency has its merits. It helps societies root themselves and coalesce around shared principles and codes. It clearly announces to individuals that certain behaviors, for example, rape and murder, are unequivocally unacceptable. There are some areas in which there just isn’t and shouldn’t be much room for argument.
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” for another’s, and vice versa. Or many things might be both good and bad, or neither.
Put another way, 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 acceptance, while another might value grit. 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.
These personal values are a third core ingredient of our genius. On our hero’s 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 can better find our way back to true north.
What makes us unique
When one ponders their own personal core values, “love” is often the first thing that comes to mind. 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 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 essence. “Love” can be 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 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 will be curated from the list of common core values below.
- Will power
What we actually value
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 a stew with 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 for cultivating well-being. Through them, we refill our batteries and get inspired. Talents are often a 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. Practicing integrity can be thought of as the process of embodying our stated 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 consistently. We are all constantly being challenged, stretched, and thrown off balance by the realities of the world. There is always a fuller, deeper expression of our stated values.
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.
Many 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. 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.
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?