Knowing and Living Your Values

I suspect that most people live their lives in reasonable accordance with their values, at least most of the time. It’s not always easy to do, of course:

  • You may value independence, yet, when your daughter has grown and is ready to move out on her own, you are not sure you want her to be so independent.
  • You may value creativity, but find that you stifle your own creativity because you also value security, which makes you not want to take chances.

But, I also suspect that most people could not set down and list their values. So, if you are included in that group, I encourage you to take some time to list your values. It can be very enlightening. And, it can let you see that you might have some values that you are not living up to as well as you desire.

To help you think about your values, I’ll share my current list with you and we’ll use a couple of examples from this list to illustrate some important points. My current list of values is as follows:

(I’ve pruned a few values from the list to make it more readable.)

Notice that the family and money are not in the list, which may make you wonder “What’s wrong with you, Keener? Don’t you value family and money?” Well, of course I do. And I once had a list of values that had family and money on it. But, then it seemed to me that values should be intangible, whereas family and money are tangible. That’s just my way of doing things, though: you should certainly define your values in a way that makes the most sense for you. Perhaps values should include tangibles.

At least a couple of my values illustrate some general points that I think it’s important to keep in mind.

  • Compassion – I value compassion a great deal. You probably do, too. When I see compassion in people, it makes me instantly like them. And, I would love to be compassionate myself. It turns out that I am not very compassionate, though, except for people and creatures that I consider “innocent.” Something screwy in my wiring, perhaps. But, it illustrates that we don’t have to be good at a value for it to be a value for us. It also illustrates that, while our values define us, we can also define our values. Let’s say that I value creativity and security, but that I value security and playing it safe so much that it interferes with my creativity. I have it within me, and you have it within you, to change the strengths of those values. I can place less emphasis on security and more on creativity. Our values are about who we are, but they are also about who we want to be.
  • Beauty – Yes, I value beauty. But,what I really value is not just “prettiness,” but something much deeper. It is that which, when you look at it, inspires awe and reverence and curiosity. (I use the term beauty in much the same way that Richard Feynman did in this video.) Beauty is probably not the best choice of words for what I really value, but it is best word I can think of nonetheless. So, some values can be difficult to define … it can be hard, maybe impossible, to find just the right word to “sum them up.” In such cases, it’s best to just go ahead and write an approximate word down. Don’t lose the thought just because you can’t find just the right way to say it.

Ben Franklin was famous for, among many other things, taking one value each week and working on it, really internalizing it. For example, one week he would take the value of integrity and would ensure that every action he took and every plan he made had that value in mind, upfront.

That’s a practice I haven’t done in a long while. So, I’ve decided to get back into it. I think it’s a practice that’s worthy of your consideration, too.

In closing, I hope I have given you something to think about as you construct or revisit your list of values.

2 thoughts on “Knowing and Living Your Values

  1. This is a great post, Bruce. Really helped me think about values in a constructive way. I’m about to get married, and thinking about my and my fiancée’s shared values is something that I’m hoping will help us write our vows.

  2. This is a great post, Bruce. Really helped me think about values in a constructive way. I’m about to get married, and thinking about my and my fiancée’s shared values is something that I’m hoping will help us write our vows.

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