Several years ago, a series of profound life changes compelled me to take stock of my values – for myself and my family. As I began to reflect and put ideas to paper, I found that most of the usual sources of moral and ethical values were lacking in some way. Modern life is complex to say the least; daily we are faced with competing ideas, pressures, and priories. This can lead to confusion and inner chaos, which confounds our ability to learn. So in addition to outlining moral values, it was also my goal to seek deeper wisdom as best I could.
The Ten Commandments I was taught as a child, for example, do not explicitly preclude rape, torture, genocide, slavery, or child abuse. In fact, the Old Testament openly promulgates some of these things, so the bible could not serve as a sole source . Nonetheless, some big ideas were helpful, so I borrowed a bit from Catholicism and Christianity more broadly.
Buddhism, on the other hand, seemed overly focused on the self, and rests upon the fundamental assumption that all life involves suffering. Suffering is indeed a feature of life, but it can hardly be considered a basic ingredient. However, letting go of attachments to material possessions in particular, sounded like a good idea. So I borrowed from Buddhism as well.
Next, I turned to philosophy. No matter which avenue one pursues, Philosophy involves much rhetorical gamesmanship and mental gymnastics to be practical (let alone understood!) Much of philosophy seeks to be logical and correct, often at the expense of a richer and deeper understanding of the human experience. As such it (the academic discipline) lacks warmth and fails to attend to things like love, affect, and empathy. Logic, reason, and epistemological congruence are features of philosophy, not shortcomings. And since philosophy never promised anything more than it does, it cannot be faulted. Despite the myriad complications, philosophy offers many insights, so some Philosophical constructions were added to the bucket.
So, lacking a single trustworthy source of core values, I referred to a number of sources – including Judaism, Catholicism, Humanism, Buddhism and several philosophers to name several. As a side note, it was encouraging to find that many faiths, religions, and philosophies from around the world share a number of core values.
With this in mind, I share the resultant set of values with you in the hope that they may assist you in developing your own set of values – or at least provide you with food for thought.
Loyalty to Family
We can be loyal to those who show us loyalty, but when loyalties conflict, we must side with our nuclear family. Without family, we are alone in the world, so the family unit must come first. The proverb “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb” implies that loyalty imparts no obligation to maintain toxic or harmful relationships with family members. So cherish your partner and friends, remain duty-bound to brothers and sisters-in-arms, and show loyalty to others when it is earned, but always prioritize your nuclear family unit above all.
Our behaviors reflect how we feel, but they can also affect how we feel. So we must eat well, sleep enough, hydrate, exercise, relax, socialize, learn, and develop. There is a biopsychosocial interplay involved in everything we feel, think, and do, So we must strive to be healthy in mind, body, and character and make them a priority in our lives if we are to live healthy and fulfilling lives.
Aggression aimed at us must be met with strength, confidence, courage, and dignity, and without malice. We seek no permission or authority to protect or defend ourselves, but we must never initiate aggression or violence.
Knowledge is important, so we must learn as much as we can. However, knowledge, data, news, and information are often subjective and can change quickly. Wisdom tends to hold up over time, and it emerges from knowledge, experience, and good judgement. Thus, wisdom should be our goal; not simply knowing things, or being “smart”.
Winning without effort offers a hollow victory, so we must give everything our fullest measure of effort. External rewards and recognition can be enjoyable, but it is the level of difficulty and challenge that gives an achievement its true value. Consequently intrinsic pride and satisfaction should be our goal; not extrinsic rewards, trinkets, or recognition.
Something that has been earned honestly and fairly can never rightly be taken away. Accepting anything that is not earned is unfair to others (aside from small gifts or genuine acts of kindness). It is also true that “there is no such thing as a free lunch”, meaning that free things often come with tacit expectations or obligations. Therefore, we should never accept free things and unearned privileges when it is in our power to do so. Likewise, we must strenuously reject any attempts to besmirch our achievements rightfully earned through merit, talent, or hard work.
Many of life’s most worthy endeavors can be extremely challenging. When something becomes difficult or discouraging, we must gather our energies and persevere. As the saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” Coupled with hard work and a sound strategy, persistence almost always wins in the long run. So we must focus on long term results and never quit once we have committed to an endeavor, unless it would cause harm to do otherwise.
Passivity is indicative of weakness, which can lead to harm to ourselves or others; Unwarranted aggression is against our value of non-aggression; and Passive-aggressiveness is a form of revenge, which often involves deception; So we must avoid all three. Instead we must strive to be Assertive at all times. We are neither bullies nor victims, neither predator nor prey. Thus, we do not shy away from conflicts, but rather we address problems directly, calmly, and confidently with the goal of maximizing fairness and justice for all concerned.
It is normal, natural, and healthy to show concern for others, but our empathy can be exploited and used against us. Our votes and donations are not always used as intended, and can sometimes lead to devastating consequences to ourselves and others. We must not allow others to bully, manipulate, or shame us into demonstrating compassion or support – especially when money, votes, power, or control are involved. People who are overtly and fervently empathetic are to be viewed with extreme suspicion, especially when they are asking for something.
“Keep your word,” “Stay true to yourself,” and “Don’t make promises you cannot keep” are all sayings that allude to integrity. We must remain true to our words and values in the face of threats, bribes, or temptations. Put another way, never make promises you cannot, or do not intend, to keep. To do otherwise is to risk harming one’s reputation, losing respect, or harming others. Failing to act with integrity can also be a form of passive-aggression, which is contrary to our values.
Justice demands equal measures of fairness, rights, dignity, respect, and opportunity for everyone. Any ideology that requires force, aggression, intimidation, shaming, bullying, or other forms of manipulation in order to be achieved is antithetical to Justice. Justice should feel reasonable and fair to everyone involved, even if somewhat painful. We must strive to be fair and just in our actions, and to never seek revenge, as revenge begets more injustice.
Without reason to guide us, and to help manage the worst of our primitive instincts, civilization would collapse. This is true in families, countries, communities, and for individuals themselves. Powerful emotions can add beauty to our lives, but they can also cause chaos and damage. Therefore we must strive to control our most powerful emotions and instincts, lest they control us. Reason, fairness, and logic should be the primary driver of our words, thoughts, and behaviors, not feelings.
Freedom is the basic state of humanity and is among a handful of human rights that are almost universally considered to be self-evident. Threats to liberty are threats to our basic human rights. And since freedom can only be violated by force, coercion, fraud, or deception, it is abhorrent to our values. Some limits to freedom are necessary, but these limitations must be chosen very carefully, and only by rational competent adults and with the consent of those governed. Therefore, we must never infringe upon the liberty of others, or advocate for such action against others, unless a serious crime or injustice is involved; likewise we should actively resist attempts to infringe on our own liberties or those of others around us.
The Chinese concept of Yin and Yang best embodies this value. Feminine vs Masculine, Rest vs Work, and Collective needs vs Individual rights are just a few of many seemingly dichotomous notions that are often framed as “opposites” or mutually exclusive. But when given due consideration, they can actually synergistically complement each other. When one force becomes out of balance with respect to the others (there can be more than just two), injustice or serious long term harm or can result. We must not give privilege to one thing without attending fairly to the others; we must strive for balance in all we do.
Respect and Trust
Respect and trust are essential elements of emotional intimacy. Without them, fulfilling relationships and a wholesome happy life are virtually impossible. Therefore, we must offer, to those who are worthy of it, the opportunity to earn our respect and trust; and we should endeavor to earn theirs in return. We can offer others a basic level of trust and respect initially, but our fullest measures of trust and respect MUST be earned. In order to accomplish this we must set appropriate boundaries, clearly communicate them, and enforce them with calmness and assertiveness.