“Decisions are easy when values are clear.” ~ Roy Disney, Walt Disney Company
“In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way–an honorable way– in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment.” Victor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning
A consistent life of making choices, based on your values, will bring inner power of strength, despite your ever changing circumstances. As a result, when times of conflict, struggle, or pain come into your life, you will forge strength of character. Healthy living and character are intimately related. Once you identify and understand your values, behavior choices become easier.
Personally, I value treating others with dignity and respect. For instance, clients with poor personal hygiene will leave a lingering odor after leaving my office; my behavior of treating them with respect, is guided by my values not my circumstances.
It might be easier to understand this concept overall, but more difficult to relate to your personal situation; because there is a tendency to problem solve circumstances instead of being guided by values. Perhaps, you value being honest. Then, when you are making a purchase and the clerk gives you back a dollar too much in change; you return it.
Another scenario might be; your bank makes an error, and adds $2,000.00 to your account, that does not belong to you. The principle is the same; live in accordance with your values rather than the situation. Honesty is not about the amount of money, but about living congruent with your values. In doing so, the peace from within is priceless.
My client, a mother of two adult sons, was experiencing high levels of anxiety. The cause of this anxiety stemmed from jumping from one family crisis to another, keeping her on a roller coaster outside of her control. The most recent crisis happened while she attended a little league game where both of her grandsons were playing; each on the opposing team. Their dads, her adult sons, got into an argument that escalated into a physical fight. The police arrived and arrested both sons, for assault, and took them to jail.
For my client, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and her anxiety peaked as she feared for the future of her family. She worried that this was enough to tear her family apart. Her concern grew with having to make a choice between her two sons, questioning who she should go with to court. I asked her to outline her beliefs and values, and how she should interact with her children; however she had been so enmeshed in her children’s lives, making it difficult for her to identify.
With some coaching, she determined her value, as a mother, was to simply love her children. Upon reflection, she realized that her children were adults, she did not need to correct, guide, or even agree with them, and instead she need only love them. My suggestion for her was to respond to her current situation according to these values instead of the individual circumstance, to tell her family that she would not be choosing sides; she would love each of them, and go to court with both sons. She decided to support her sons in their difficult situation, but not speak poorly of either of them. This resulted in relief from anxiety as she allowed her values to guide her actions.
Values = Empowerment
When I was in college, I read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” This story had a great impact on me. The main character, Tom, valued integrity. I was impressed, even in the extreme circumstances of slavery; Tom had more choice and freedom than his master. Tom’s master was trying to force Tom to do something against his value of integrity. Tom would be the slave, but would not harm another slave; the master became enraged, and out of control. Tom’s behavior was guided by his values, not his circumstances. Tom had more freedom than his master, because he understood that he had choice. Accepting there are choices, unlocks empowerment from within.
Such empowerment does not come in moments of great challenge; it comes daily, in the smaller things, like returning the extra dime when you receive too much change, or saying I am sorry when you have wronged someone else. Living consistently with your values will result in greater confidence, increasing your strength to manage the more difficult circumstances of life.
This empowerment from within cannot derive from any other way; this strength of character develops from making one good choice at a time. (see Healthy Living“You Have a Choice”). Tapestry is woven one thread at a time, though the individual thread does not seem all that important; as a whole, those individual threads become a masterpiece. The same is true for building character of integrity and strength; it comes from making one decision at a time.
Making choices, according to your values, requires stepping back from the individual situation; ask what do I believe in? How can I take responsibility for myself, and not blame others? (Happiness – “From Victim to Accountability”). One small decision at a time brings the feeling of peace and inner strength, which far outweighs any gain that giving up your character might offer. Richard Scott, author of “Finding Peace, Happiness and Joy” observes, “Character is more valuable than any material object you own, any knowledge you have gained through study, or any goals you have attained no matter how well lauded by mankind.” Strong moral character, and the accompanying peace and inner strength, come from consistently being guided by your values.
“Character is more valuable than any material object you own, any knowledge you have gained through study, or any goals you have attained no matter how well lauded by mankind.”
~ Richard Scott
Kristy and Angela were friends whose lives were intertwined, on many levels. Kristy wanted to open a children’s dance studio; a business venture that Angela, enthusiastically financed, loaning her $10,000.00. Kristy’s husband made risky investment choices, without Kristy’s involvement, and lost the $10,000.00.
Even though Angela told Kristy that it was no big deal, Angela began doing various intrusive things to Kristy. Such as, entering Kristy’s home without knocking, and taking toilet paper or other items from her pantry without permission. Angela was doing these things because Kristy did owe her and in truth wanted her money; their friendship deteriorated. Then, Kristy came into therapy excited because she had received a letter from Angela that the debt would be forgiven.
Kristy asked what I thought she should do. I asked her to step back from the situation and identify what her beliefs and values were when she borrowed the money. Kristy began to recall more intrusive things Angela was doing such as coming into her home at two in the morning, uninvited, for potato chips. It was clear that Angela was being intrusive, rubbing Kristy’s face in the financial mess, if you will.
Kristy was trying to decide if she should accept Angela’s offer of not repaying the debt or should she spend several years, for her husband’s choices, repaying the loan. Kristy was responding to the circumstances, because she did not have values outlined to guide her. Since Kristy was going in circles about Angela’s disturbing behavior, I offered my values regarding borrowing money; repayment of a debt has nothing to do with what the other person may or may not do. If you borrow money, you pay it back. Based on the value the decision for Kristy to make was much more clear.
Consequence Based Choice
Something else to consider is making choices based on the ensuing consequences. In other words, weighing the consequences of choices or making a decision that is determined by the easier to accept consequence, instead of what is right.
Peer pressure is an excellent illustration. A teenager, in a social setting, may face a decision to use alcohol or smoke marijuana. His choices are to reject or accept the offer. Refusal will likely result with rejection by his peers; accepting the offer will likely result in acceptance by his peers. Fearing rejection, the teen chooses to accept the offer and in so doing the teen has chosen the easier of the consequences to bear at the same time compromising his values.
The consequence determined the choice; not the value. This principle can be applied to every situation; will consequences determine your choice, or will values determine your choice?
Most people cannot outline or articulate exactly what their values are. Leadership programs establish this as a starting place for success, both personally and professionally. That is the purpose of a mission or an organization’s value statement. The workbook exercise, in the premium content, will help you outline and define your values. These values build a foundation for happiness and healthy living.
As your values and behavior come into alignment, values serve as guiding principles that support your life with peace. Despite your every changing circumstance, a consistent life of making choices based on your values will result with a sense of inner empowerment and well-being.