Value and Values

In 1 on February 26, 2010 at 4:50 pm

I want to add another principle to my list.  It might seem a bit odd, but this is at the core of my experience over the last twenty years.

It seems to me that life for so many people is often a conflict between what we value and getting value from the things, the world around us.  I must admit for me, what I value becomes more and more clear for me everyday.  Sadly, the more clear I become on what I value, the more difficult relationships can become.  These difficulties do not arise because I expect people to value the same things I do.  They arise because I can so clearly see the conflict in others and am too often recruited into that battle, to be okay with the conflict others experience.  People tell me they value one thing, but their actions suggest otherwise.  And they want me to ignore what I see.  I simply cannot do that.  It is the resolution of this conflict, my ability to help others resolve this conflict, that makes me able to help them get where they want to go.

Let me be clear.  To borrow from Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), value in my world is not a noun, but a verb.  Values is a noun, a noun defined not by what one thinks, but by what one does.  To value something means that one does what matters most and I believe we prove that by doing it when it matters the most, even when it might cost us everything.

That is how I define the verb value.

So one of the principles of whatever it is I am creating for myself has to be defined by doing what matters.  This also requires knowing what matters or trusting a belief enough to test it in real life knowing it will probably cost something.

In his book The Science Behind Your Smile, Daniel Nettle explains the difficulty in doing what we value.  We are at war inside of ourselves.  Here is what Nettle says the science shows:

“The distinction between wanting and liking is of use here. Our minds are equipped with a dopamine-drunk wanting system that draws us to compete for a promotion or a higher salary: a larger house or more material goods; an attractive partner or 2.4 children. It draws us to these things, not because they will make us happy, not even because we like them, but because the ancestors who got the stone age equivalents of these things are our ancestors, and those who did not are biological dead ends. Although we implicitly feel that things we want in life will make us happy, this may be a particularly cruel trick played by our evolved mind to keep us competing. The things we want in life are the things the evolved mind tells us to want, and it doesn’t give a fig about our happiness. All the evidence suggests you would probably be happier not caring about your promotion and going and building boats or doing volunteer work instead.    Moreover, the more important people believe financial success is, the more dissatisfied with both work and family they are.”

And this is the heart of the dilemma for me, one I believe that I’ve solved in theory, but in practice struggle with when working with others.  My own research shows that people who choose to go build the boat CAN have the best of both worlds.  This can solve the inner conflict, can quiet the voice in our heads.  The person who loves building the boat will probably do it better.  They will likely build boats they can sell if they choose to do so.

The difficulty is so few people ever learn this, ever experience this love long enough to make it work.  In medicine, in sport, in education and even in business, I have witnessed people who love “boat building” lose their love for it when they are faced with “the game,” with politics, with deadlines.

And this takes me back to the distinction between magic and the magician.

How many people, laypeople, know that the pressure to make numbers in business, in the financial world has caused problems because everything is reported and judged on a quarterly basis instead of over the long term?  How many of us know that the focus on SAT scores and grades has hurt the education of our children?  How many of us know that the music business has been ruined by the creation of pre-fab bands created simply to make more money?  How many of us know that free agency has hurt baseball because the rich can simply buy the best players (even though it does not necessarily lead to championships)?

I was watching a Behind the Music episode about Pink yesterday and it told the story of her second album.  She wrote the songs from her heart.  It was painful, many of the songs seem sad.  When she pitched it to her producer, he told her it was a bad idea, it would never sell.

She challenged him.  She told him he lived out of fear and she lived out of love.  She convinced him to take the risk.  The album sold millions of copies and announced Pink to the world.  “I was wrong,” he said because she was right.  He lived out of fear.  She valued love and took the risk.

The difference between magic and the magician is inherent in all of these examples.  Magicians want to sell you something disguised as something that matters.  Magic itself is not a “thing.”  Magic is the process.  Magic is real.  And if you value it, if you practice it long enough, the mystery disappears.  Magic happens when you value something long enough to let it work.  Magic is the human mind and heart coming together to do what matters.  Magic takes time.  The magician fears time because it allows one to look long enough to see behind the curtain.  I have seen behind enough curtains to know the world is too full of magicians and too short on magic.

So add “Value is a verb” to my list of principles.  As I move forward, I am reminded of this passage about values by David Bruce Ingram, Ph.D. professor of philosophy at Loyola University in Chicago:

To the extent that you don’t examine your life, you don’t ‘own’ it. It’s not yours, but someone else’s. It means that you do something because that’s what everyone else does, because you’ve always done it that way, or because Joe Schmoe the big expert tells you to. But doing something for these reasons is not taking responsibility for your own life.

You heard me right. Being morally responsible means you think deeply about the meaning of your values and the norms you hold dear. If you don’t do that, you’re not being adult. Being adult means that you freely- voluntarily and with forethought- take control over the values that otherwise stay hidden. So dig ‘em up and examine ‘em.


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