Values are a set of beliefs that shape our lives. They are the principles that make the core of our being and define who we are and how we choose to be, to do, or to have. They determine what is important for us. They answer the questions: Why am I different from other people? Why do I choose to do certain things and avoid others? Why do I behave a certain way? Why am I attracted to some people and not to others? What am I willing to die for? What am I committed to? And many others.
Everyone has values; though many people go about life not really knowing what they are. Some people may know some of their values but they act in an unconscious level, like an automatic pilot. Most of the situations we face in life are acted upon as if they were an automatic reaction: we are not really aware that it is our values that are making us choose how to deal with these situations.
Our values are related to our culture, our society, and our own experience. We receive our values from the important people in our lives: first, parents; then, family members, friends, and other influential people, such as religious leaders, teachers, political and artistic personalities, society in general, and so on. In fact, we keep borrowing values and changing them until we reach a certain level of maturity and decidedly know which ones best serve us. But they are still not set on fire.
This is very interesting for as we change our beliefs about certain things, so we change our values. Some of our values are never static. Remember the story of John Newton, the composer of Amazing Grace? Now, he used to be a slave trader and, during an epiphany, had a change of heart. He shifted his values 180 degrees; from yellow to green or vinegar to wine. His is a great story. How many others are there and which direction did they take? Though I forgot his name, I met a man who used to be a cattle rancher and suddenly realized the suffering he was inflicting upon his animals and became an avid advocate of animal rights. His change of values was also drastic as to making him a vegan–a total vegetarian who avoids anything that has an animal ingredient in it, in dressing and eating.
Even we, in our regular lives, can come up with great shifting in our values. Each decision we make comes from a value that we hold dear. For example, to some, patriotism is a great value to behold; to others, education is more important. To some a lie indicates dishonesty; while others couldn’t care less about a white lie here and there. Things get shaky when sometimes we have to choose between two conflicting values; for example, you love your country but you are also a pacifist. What happens when your country goes to war? How do deal with this internal conflict?
The more paradoxical situations we experience in life, the more interesting the holding of our values become. This is easily demonstrated with high debatable topics such as abortion, for example. Suppose a friend of yours gets pregnant and needs support into provoking an abortion. You dearly love your friend, but your value is that no one should get killed for whatever reason. Even your friend has serious doubts about this decision, though circumstances prevent her from having a baby. How do you cope with the situation? When we think about our values, there are always pros and cons about them, and this is very much explained by the fact that some people have certain beliefs and others don’t. Now, this is where judgments come from.
If we want to understand who we are, we need to be aware of the values we hold dear. If we want to understand others, we need to know about their values. It is this learning about ours and their values that will help us have tolerance for the diverse world around us, and accept people just as they are. Our relationships will thrive, especially our loving relationships: a better understanding of ourselves and our partner will lead to a better relationship in general, and, as a product of this understanding, we will find happiness.
That is why knowing of our values is so important. Our values determine who we are and give us directions to where we want to be, what we desire to have, and what we want to do. It is based on our values that we determine our goals, objectives and directions.