Several years ago, a series of profound life changes compelled me to take stock of my values. Most sources were lacking in one way or another. 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 advocates some of these things. Buddhism, on the other hand, seemed overly focused on the self, while most of Philosophy lacks warmth and fails to attend to affect and human emotion.
Lacking a single trustworthy source for my core values, I referred to several sources – including the Bible, philosophy, Humanism, and Buddhism to name several. As it turns out, many faiths, religions, and philosophies from around the world hold many certain values in common. With this in mind, I share these values with you in the hope that they may assist you in developing your own values – or at least provide some food for thought.
Loyalty to Family
We can be loyal to those who show us loyalty, but when loyalties conflict, we must take the side of our nuclear family. Without family, we are alone in the world, so family comes first. The ancient proverb “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb” means that Loyalty holds no obligation to maintain a toxic or harmful relationship with a family member. Cherish your partner and friends, and show loyalty when it is earned, but always prioritize your nuclear family.
We strive to be healthy in our mind, body, and character. 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 psycho-bio-socio interplay involved in everything we think, do, and feel. So we must attend to all three and make them a priority in our lives if we are to be truly healthy and happy.
When confronted with aggression, we must engage it with strength, confidence, and dignity – and without malice. We seek no permission or authority to protect ourselves, but we must never initiate aggression or violence.
Knowledge is important, so we must learn as much as we can, but wisdom is much more important. Knowledge and information are subject to change, but Wisdom holds over time. Wisdom emerges from knowledge, experience, critical thinking, and values. Wisdom is our goal, not just knowing things, or being “smart”.
Winning without effort is a hollow victory, so we must give everything our full effort. External rewards and recognition can be enjoyable, but it is the level of difficulty and the effort expended that gives an achievement its true value and intrinsic satisfaction. Consequently intrinsic pride and satisfaction should be our goal; not extrinsic rewards, recognition, or trinkets.
Something that has been earned honestly and fairly can never rightly be taken away. Receiving something that was not earned is unjust, and therefore contrary to our values. Unearned benefits must also be taken from someone else, and thus hold no value. We should never accept free things or unearned privileges; we must earn everything we get.
When things are difficult or discouraging, we must take a step back, gather our energies and try again. Like 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 always focus on the long run and never quit once we have committed to an endeavor.
Passivity is oftentimes viewed as weakness, unwarranted aggression is against our values, and passive-aggressiveness is deceptive; so we must avoid all three. Instead we must strive to be assertive at all times. We do not shy away from conflicts, but rather we address problems directly, calmly, and confidently. We are neither bullies nor victims, neither predator nor prey.
It is normal, natural, and healthy to show concern for others; but our empathy can be exploited. Votes and money rarely help in the ways that we intend, so we must not allow others to bully, manipulate, or shame us into demonstrating compassion or support – especially when money, power or control are involved. Overtly empathetic ideologues are to be viewed with extreme suspicion.
“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. To do otherwise is to risk ruining one’s reputation and losing the respect we have earned. Failing to act with integrity can harm others as well, and as such contrary to our values.
Justice demands equal human rights, dignity, and opportunity for everyone. However, equity and social justice require force, aggression, intimidation, shaming or other forms of manipulation in order to be achieved. Because social justice can only be achieved by inflicting new injustices, it is contrary to our values of Fairness, Merit, and non-Aggression. Justice should feel reasonable and fair to everyone involved, even if somewhat painful, so we must strive to be fair and just in every one of our interactions.
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. Love, empathy, lust and other powerful emotions can add beauty to our lives, but they can also cause chaos and damage to ourselves and others – therefore they are contrary to our values. We must control our powerful emotions and instincts or they will control us. Reason should be the primary driver of our words and behaviors.
Freedom is the basic state of humanity and is among a handful of human rights that are almost universally considered to be self-evident. Freedom can only be violated by force, coercion, fraud, and deception – therefore any threats to liberty are 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 only with the consent of the governed. We must never infringe upon the liberty of others, or advocate for such action against others, unless a serious crime is involved; likewise we should actively resist attempts to infringe on our own liberties.
The Chinese concept of Yin and Yang best embodies this value. Feminine/Masculine, Rest/Work, Collective needs/Individual rights are a few of many seemingly dichotomous notions that are often framed as “opposites” or mutually exclusive. But when properly attended to, they actually complement and balance each other. When one force becomes out of balance with respect to the others (there can be more than just two), chaos can ensure and serious injustices can occur. 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 must expect 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 help others to this end, while also respecting ourselves, we must also set appropriate boundaries, and enforce them with calmness and assertiveness.