Why Values Discussions Matter
When I first encountered Values, I thought the process was fairly straightforward. You pick 5-10 values and boom you are done. Now everything should be clear and aligned.
Over the last decade, it became apparent that values can be done at a surface level and yes, that provides some benefit. It soon became quite clear that words have fuzzy definitions and people can interpret a word like “Accountability” in so many different ways. Then you start to add on different situations and your desire for Accountability comes up against many other desires.
I began seeing more powerful ways to utilize Values in my personal decision making and in groups
As I looked for a universal way to find my values, I saw that there isn’t much agreement on how to find them. Nor on what could be considered a value – does it have to be one word? does it have to be a noun? Then I looked for common definitions of the words and saw that there are often multiple meanings and the meaning of words will change over time. Look at a dictionary from 1950 and compare it to a version from 2020. I went from frustration to opportunity. What if the fact that one word has so many meanings, interpretations and contexts is actually a gift? A few years ago, I decided to switch my method and limit myself to my top 5 positive words that I wanted to live into. Those 5 words became my morning mediation. I think Peace was my first word at that time. Somedays I would just repeat the 5 words to myself before getting out of bed. Another day, I might spend 10 minutes just reflecting on the word Peace and all it’s various meanings – feeling peaceful inside myself, world peace or focusing on being peaceful when I heard some bad news. These reflections really helped me get more clear on who I wanted to be and how I might live those values that day. I have changed my 5 top values a few times. Sometimes a new word just resonates with me more strongly or perhaps I feel I have mastered and integrated a value so deeply that I don’t need to bring it forward daily any more.
I also remind myself of these Values as I am struggling with a problem or a decision. For example, today I was thinking about a conversation I need to have this week that I was having some anxiety about. Love is my top value now and I applied it to this situation. If I really wanted to live with (or from) love, how might I think about this situation, person or conversation differently. It really helped.
I am expecting many of you have been part of a work or social group that have decided to declare some values on their wall or website. I am guessing that many of you have found a big disconnect between the words you see and your experience of the group. I learned two things – it matters who sets the values and it matters how often they are discussed. If these values really matter to the group, they move into the center of life. They are discussed as if they are alive, which I believe they are. They change, shift and react to what is alive within the group at the time. In the same way that I sense my personal values shift over time and experiences, I think it is healthy for a group to focus on the current values they want to live into…..not just the ones they have already mastered. The ongoing conversations keep the meaning of these printed words alive and potent. And as the group discusses their shared and agreed upon values, people’s individual values react and shift over time. So what a group may have found “Valuable” to focus on in March 2018 might be quite different in May of 2020.
Polarization, political and family tension are on the rise. Values may be a path towards healing and weaving a healthier social fabric. Hot button issues tend to move towards different views, cherry picked facts and lots of emotion. My experience used to be that I lose my cool and start to question my friend or family member’s choices. Not good for me or my relationship. Values has allowed me to take a big step backwards and cool down. As I have conversations with people about their root values (the ones that matter most to them), it helps me to see them and their views in a deeper way. Many groups are working to make these deeper, values based conversation something we are all used to. Helping people get clarity on finding their root values would enhance these conversations even further. As I said earlier, when people discuss their values out loud with others things begin to shift. They make really resonate with some wording that someone else said or even the act of needing to articulate my own thoughts around a value I already hold helps me gain some insight I never had before. If we can normalize going deeper into our own values and getting comfortable with these positive, connection building discussions we might have the healthier society we all crave. Coming soon – a blog post on American Values