What are the values you live by? If such a question catches you off guard - welcome to the club! A few years ago, I would not even consider writing down a list of my values or even figuring out a personal mission statement, as recommended by Steven R. Covey.
How can we become aware of our values? It doesn't look like a great idea to pick them from a list of all potential values ever uttered by mankind. Use simple triggers instead - events in your life that make you think. There are direct pathways to discovering your values, like:
- Think about admiration
Whom do you wish good luck, from the bottom of your heart? Even if you don't tell them? And was that person really famous? Whom do you like to listen to, and why?
Be less awestruck - remember most role models never intended to be like that. They're rather forced to behave as they do, by their very values.
- Think about roles
Which ones are the roles in my life that I enjoy playing? Daughter, son, father, potter, team lead, coach, club president, singer, member of the town council ...? Why? What exactly makes me enjoy playing a specific role? On the other hand, which roles are manifestations of values and principles that I don't like? What would be an alternative to playing them?
- Think about dreams
Honestly, I never wanted to become an astronaut or an engine / race driver. This stuff sounded way too kitschy already when I was young. Did you ever think about something less spectacular that would be worth while pursuing? What did you want to be or do and why? What are your most non-perishable dreams? What are the values that acted as «dream preserving agents»?
- Think about moments of flow
When was the last time you were so immersed in what you were doing that you completely forgot about time and place? What was so enchanting about that work?
- Think about moments of happiness
When was the last time you were so happy that your stomach went crazy? What made these moments possible?
Of course, there are also indirect pathways to your values. If you choose them, be sure to employ Toyota's technique of 5 whys: never be satisfied with the very first value candidate that comes to your mind. Instead, question each candidate: why? Repeating this cycle five times should lead you closer to the real value behind the ostensible answers.
Here are the indirect pathways that come to my mind:
- Think about confrontations
What is freedom, for instance? There's a saying: «Those who don't move don't feel their chains». It seems some people believe that freedom was the obligation, then, to do what others try to ban. Freedom is interpreted as a simple rule - multiply it by -1: «So, your parents are extremely religious people? Great, so you'll dress pitch black, keep out of the sunlight and turn all religious symbols in your room upside down.»
Doesn't sound like sovereign decision making, does it? In the end, we become what we fight. Just look at anybody corrupted by power.
Freedom means that we can do the right thing and we do it confidently, even if our parents, the pope or society like it. What is the right thing to do, in your opinion?
- Think about sarcasm
Sarcasm is always (always!) an indicator of values somebody has seen violated. If you happen to know House, MD you know what I mean. Dare to live through your most sarcastic moments again - nobody (I know of) can read your thoughts. Whether you've actually made sarcastic remarks or not, just apply the 5 Whys to track down the values that weren't honored although you thought they should have been.
- Think about paranoia
Yes, the truth is out there. Sometimes good friends of mine make me smile when they comment on my sensitivity to privacy issues versus compared to my blogging.
Meanwhile, I think it has become absolutely impossible for anybody to stay invisible on the Internet, or more precisely: to stay un-googleable. It just doesn't work. Here's one of the stories that convinced me: my grandfather spent some time as a worker in Argentina, some 80 years ago. Nobody remembers anymore when he left and when he came back. Nobody? Not quite, the Passenger lists of the harbor of Bremen 1920 - 1939 do: they know his age, occupation, marital state, his companions, the name of the ship and the date of departure, accurate to the day. All that stuff is available online. Do you need to be paranoid to be puzzled by this persistent data trace, reaching back into a whole generation before the advent of computers?
What's behind that paranoia, then? To be honest, I want to be in control of what part of my data is visible to the public. In control of who can see it. Wouldn't we even like to control how the facts are to be interpreted? And so on...
However, «control» doesn't sound so positive. Instead, we prefer to call it «privacy». As soon as we can't control anymore who's seeing our data, we might even resort to our last stance, «reputation management». You can find out a lot about your values as soon as you consider how you would not like to be seen by others.
- Think about manias
Do you have arguments with people about the very same issues, over and over again? Do people keep accusing you of being fanatical about a seemingly tiny aspect of life, while ignoring bigger and much more important ones?
That's no problem as long as you get mixed feedback from different groups of people. However, get wary of your thinking when you can't find any supporters outside obscure Internet discussion boards.
Maybe (it's safe to play with this thought, nobody can read your mind) some aspects of life make you feel helpless, anxious or just plain irate? Maybe a mania is but a substitute for a real, but unattainable thing?
I start to be suspicious about myself whenever I feel the urge to stop asking the second or third Why in the game of the 5 Whys. Maybe I'm feeling as if somebody puts me under pressure of justification. To me, my reluctance to ask further questions means that I'm no longer exploring my motives but rather looking for ways to persuade others or to distract from an issue. Sometimes, there's a hidden value that begs to be uncovered. Could it be it is buried under a mania because committing to it feels so demanding?
- Think about pain
Is there something you weren't able to tell somebody who has passed away? Something you would have liked to experience, together? There is nothing as painful as losing a love, a friend, a significant person. What was life's present to you, via this person? Could it be it's now up to you to give this present to somebody else?
Do you remember such moments of enlightenment? Please tell us about it in a comment below!