It’s relatively easy to work out the prices of things because they can be measured, weighed, or appraised. But life’s greatest treasures are intangible and, therefore, immeasurable. I can borrow a cup of sugar, but not a cup of love. I can buy four pounds of beef, but not four pounds of forgiveness. And I can rent an 800 square foot apartment, but not 800 square feet of wisdom.
It is easier to sell shoes than to sell life insurance because shoes are tangible; their value is obvious. But the value of life insurance, goodness, or virtue, may not be immediately or readily clear. So, it’s not surprising that Oscar Wilde quipped, “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
When commenting on the tangible versus the intangible, Albert Einstein said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” So, it’s time for us to ask ourselves, “What counts? What are the true, meaningful, and lasting values? These questions are intimately woven into our very nature and their significance is explained by John Galt: “Man has been called a rational being, but rationality is a matter of choice — and the alternative his nature offers him is: rational being or suicidal animal. Man has to be man — by choice; he has to hold his life as a value — by choice; he has to learn to sustain it — by choice; he has to discover the values it requires and practice his virtues — by choice. A code of values accepted by choice is a code of morality.”
Yes, a job, money, and possessions have value, but their value is in what they add to life. And what they add is spice. They represent the salt and pepper of life. The meat of life consists of the intangibles: friendships, relationships, love, service, creativity, civility, kindness, and spirituality, to name a few. Our values form our character and define us. They shape who we are. They are what make us memorable. Our values are what make us valuable. They give our life meaning, purpose, and direction. They guide our choices and direct our lives.
It is because of their importance that we need to pause occasionally, take stock of ourselves, and make sure we haven’t lost sight of what is really significant. What values should you be focusing on? One of the beautiful things about life is that we are all unique and can contribute to it differently. So, you will have to decide for yourself what values to embrace and use as the guiding principles of your life. However, just to get the ball rolling, I will suggest a few values that are worthy of consideration, and later you can build your own list.
1. VALUE YOURSELF. Why? Marcus T. Cicero explains, “You will be as much value to others as you have been to yourself.” Besides, as Leo F. Buscaglia wrote, “Value yourself. The only people who appreciate a doormat are people with dirty shoes.” Get to know and cherish yourself. Become familiar with your own strengths and weaknesses. Use your strengths to help others and your weaknesses to improve yourself and empathize with others.
2. VALUE COMPASSION. True, William Hazlitt did write, “The least pain in our little finger gives us more concern and uneasiness than the destruction of millions of our fellow-beings.” But prove him wrong by showing you wish to lessen the suffering of others. We can all do our share and in our own way. Although it’s admirable to send donations to help those in need thousands of miles away, begin by having compassion for yourself and your immediate family, then your coworkers and friends, the strangers you meet, and finally others around the globe who are in need that you can do something to help.
3. VALUE PASSION. Enthusiasm and passion energize our lives. But not unbridled passion, not reckless enthusiasm, for as Sam Keen writes, “The value of passion, like fire, is judged finally by the amount of warmth and light it creates. Fanatics, like forest fires, burn bright but destroy all in their path that is tender and green. To be useful, fire must be confined. To live passionately, we must develop discipline; to love powerfully, we must forge bonds of commitment. Passion is inseparable from compassion.”
4. VALUE KNOWLEDGE. Although almost everyone is familiar with the expression “Knowledge is power,” a surprisingly large number of people misunderstand the meaning of knowledge. They think anything written in a book is knowledge. However, if I were to write a book on how I was abducted by aliens from another planet, such a book would be a collection of words, not a collection of facts. Knowledge is a collection of facts, not words. If we truly value knowledge, we will approach every subject with honest skepticism. We learn with a questioning mind and become indoctrinated with an unquestioning one. That’s why Buddha taught, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” Finally, knowledge is power, but only when we use it, so don’t just read, but apply what you learn.
5. VALUE KINDNESS. Everyone can make a major contribution to the world by embracing the values of kindness and tenderness. Your kindness warms the hearts of others, relieves their burdens, and makes them feel valuable. To live a life of kindness we need to remember two things. First, one kind act is worth more than a dozen good intentions. Second, be kinder to your enemies than they are to their friends.
6. VALUE TIME. When we value time, we put it to good use. When we waste it, we trivialize it. Charles Darwin aptly stated, “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.”
7. VALUE MENTORING. Whether you wish to or not, you are influencing others. You may be influencing them for the better or for the worse. You may be uplifting them or tearing them down. If we value mentoring or coaching, we become a source of encouragement and inspiration, helping to make the world a better place.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel taught, “Life has a value only when it has something valuable as its object.” So, when we center our lives on values, we become valuable. The value of life, then, is not determined by its length, but how we put it to use. Wealth is not riches; possessions are not abundance, and self is not everything, but values bring meaning, purpose, and direction to life. A modest, simple life filled with meaning is worth far more than an elaborate, splendiferous one that is meaningless. So, let’s reconsider our values and cultivate those that are badly needed, for the world is counting on us.
2. Digging Deeper
Whether you are happy or unhappy with your present circumstances, it is your personal values that brought you to where you are today. What do I mean by that? Well, here’s a quick summary:
1. Your present situation is the result of the actions you have taken.
2. The actions you have taken are the results of doing what you wanted to do.
3. What you wanted to do was based on what you thought was most important to you (your values).
“Wait a minute!” someone may say, “Not everything is a result of my actions. I didn’t choose to have an earthquake, tsunami, or mudslide destroy my home!”
That’s true. There are many things beyond our control. But whether we enjoy life or not depends not on what happens to us, but on what we do about what happens to us. You see, life is like a backgammon game; that is, it consists of chance and strategy. At times we will have lucky breaks, at others, we will meet with hardships. That isn’t a bad thing; it is a good thing, for it makes life an adventure. Besides, the difficulties we face provide us with the opportunity to act with faith, hope, and courage.
Some people are troubled by uncertainty. In today’s job market, for example, one can never know for sure that they will not lose their job. But I prefer to view ‘uncertainty’ as surprise. So, rather than believing we live in perilous times, I choose to believe life is a surprise party that keeps me on my toes and provides opportunities to sharpen my survival skills. It’s bad enough that some people worry about what will happen in this life, but some add to their anxiety by worrying about what will happen to them after they die. A friend asked, “How can you live without knowing what will happen to you after you die?” I explained that to know everything with certainty is to live without mystery and awe, both of which I embrace, for they enrich, not diminish, life.
The purpose of the above musings is to give examples of personal values. Examples of what I value include:
These, and other, values have and continue to serve me well. What about you? Have you thought about your values? You see, most people haven’t chosen their values. Rather it was foisted on them in childhood. In other words, most people are leading their lives with the values of other people. Values guide us in making decisions and shape how we view the world. They will either be helpful or hurtful. Our behavior is an expression of what is valuable to us. But what if what we value is not best for us? Doesn’t this signal a need to stop and manage our values? Here are some steps you can take to manage your values:
1. Become aware of your values. Before you act, ask yourself why you wish to do what you are about to do. Why is it important to you?
2. Before and after acting, identify your values. Ask yourself what principles you are using to help you make decisions.
3. Ask yourself, “Will what I am about to do serve me well or work against me?”
4. Ask yourself, “What values do I already have that are serving me well?”
5. And ask, “What values worked well in the past, but no longer do so?”
6. And “What are the values that have never helped me?”
7. Ask, “What helpful values do I have that I am not acting on?”
8. “What values do I lack and should develop?”
9. “What values support my goals?”
10. “How should I organize my values hierarchically. That is, in what order should I prioritize them (so if there is a conflict between two values, I will choose the one that is more important)?”
11. Now that I have answered these questions, what old values should I dispense with, new ones should I adopt or cultivate, and present ones should I revise?
Now let’s look at a brief example of how examining our values can help us make decisions: I value creativity and a favorite way of expressing it is through photography. I can spend hours taking pictures, but this can soon become boring for my wife who accompanies me. Since I highly value my relationship with her, I needed to resolve this conflict. My solution? I invite friends (another married couple) to join us. They don’t have many friends, so they welcome the opportunity of joining us. They enjoy the outdoors, taking a few pictures, and chatting with my wife while I am busy taking photos. Also, we all enjoy conversations in the car on our way to the location, as well as over lunch and coffee breaks. This simple solution helps us all to enjoy the day.
What do you think our goal should be, to become men and women of success or men and women of value? Can we become men and women of value without first embracing positive values? Paraphrasing Jim Rohn, don’t you agree that the major value in life is not what we get, but what we become?
WHAT MATTERS MOST: The Power of Living Your Values by Hyrum W. Smith
10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management by Hyrum W. Smith
Values for a New Millennium by Robert L. Humphrey