Whatever we think we are, or say we are; our own and others’ perceptions largely result from: what we do.
Of course, we are not wholly defined by behaviours nor should we be.
Sometimes life demands we reveal only a sanctioned side of ourselves, such as in an oppressive regime or unsafe family/relationships where it is prudent to keep parts tucked away.
We’ve probably all been in states at some time or another where we’ve acted ‘out of character’. A normally loving parent may lose their temper, a trusted colleague unable to hold their ground might kowtow to a decision they do not like, a partner forget to call the other to advise of a change of plan.
But the very expression suggests that these are anomalous events that do not reflect the way we normally behave. Want to know what truly drives someone? Listen to the words but pay acute attention to the patterns that appear in their lives. These are the shape of accumulated choices, some deliberate, others not, and a powerful narrative.
It’s also important to recognize that how we behave is in part situational.
Emotionally aware people know that different times call for different styles. We may need to be tough in driving a legal outcome but empathetic delivering bad news or responding to someone’s pain. This does not lead us away from the core, on the contrary, values act as an anchor from which we extend our reach into the world.
There’s a lot of talk about values-driven leadership and life. We hear it when we tell ourselves stories as much as tell our story to friends, family, peers.
But what does it mean: in fact, in reality, in tangible ways we can explain and live by?
If asked to name your top 10 would you rattle them off?
Would yours be acceptance, assertiveness, authenticity? Compassion, conformity, cooperation? Encouragement, equality, excitement? Or are you about flexibility? Generosity? Honesty and humility? Justice, kindness, order, pleasure, power, reciprocity, respect, self-care, trust? The list is long.
What about your top 3?
Could you show how these values play out in daily life, where and how you applied them? Would there be a continuum between what you say and do or would that rope be frayed?
It’s worth thinking about.
Values are what make us, us; the parts that cannot be bought or sold.
Say you believe in integrity. Then no matter what the situation you would ask: what is integral for me to do in response to this? You don’t look around to see what others consider acceptable and make a decision relative to them; you make it relative to you. If a culture is about the way we do things around here, then the question becomes how I do things within me. That’s how you work out if you’re aligned with your job, the partnership you’re in. It’s not well everyone does X, or Y. It’s: I make the decision, I choose.
This is not always easy. All choices bring consequences as I said last week including those we refuse to make. There are times when the cost seems too high. Name that too. Mindfulness is a better position to come from.
We’re not always aware of the factors that influence decision-making and many sociocultural caveats apply, including where others place the locus of control. Acknowleding differences helps us to claim our space in the world.
Acting from consciousness is what makes us more authentic.
Values are not goals, they’re a deep internal drive and ultimately a shaping statement.
And while they cannot, therefore, be right or wrong we should keep in mind when applying them as with anything: do no harm. This applies as much to others as ourselves.
Failing to leave an unhappy relationship because a partner will be hurt can be a cop-out if it results in harming ourselves. This does not suggest we should be selfish or bail at the first sign of trouble, but rather be careful not to misuse a so-called value to wriggle out of responsibility because it is difficult.
Likewise this is not about clubbing opinions into others. Saying ‘your shirt is awful’ when no one asks is not ‘honest’, just opinionated.
Properly used, values provide a filter that helps us decide what to do and consequently, who we become.
- Write a list of 30 – 50 values – going from A to Z can help.
- Pick your top five. This can be quite hard. Is supporting others more important, for example, than empathy? It can be difficult to distinguish one from the other but that’s about getting to the heart of what matters.
- For at least two of these write down an occasion where you have lived by that value and where you have not. We’ve all done this so it’s not a matter of berating ourselves for the inconsistency but recognizing how easy it is to act in ways that go against the grain.
- With the benefit of hindsight, how do you believe you could have acted differently? Rewrite the past by preparing a different version of the same event but this time, behaving as you would have liked without fear of retribution or outcomes.
- And looking forward – decide on a single value that you will try to apply – wisely – considerately – respectfully – throughout today.