What are your values in life?
If you can list them, you are an exception not the rule.
Most people blank when they are asked this question. They don’t know what their values are and I believe this is a fundamental problem of modern society.
Values are what drives us forward. They guide our beliefs, choices and motivations, and ultimately, define our personalities and the direction of our lives. If we don’t take the time to think about what is important to us, our lives will go in a different direction as we become vulnerable to the beliefs and choices of others.
Tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are.José Ortega y Gasset
Values have been subject of research for thousands of years. Philosophers in Ancient Greece already studied this matter in depth. And coming closer to modern history, there are many ongoing studies with the aim of understanding values better.
In this post, I will talk about the work of Schwartz, an internationally recognised social psychologist, cross-cultural researcher and creator of the Theory of Basic Human Values in 1992. He redefined his theory of the basic human principles that are common across most cultures earlier in 2012. These are:
- Autonomy of thought: creativity/imagination, curious/interested.
- Autonomy of action: choosing own goals/ own purposes, independent/self-reliant, freedom/of action and thought.
- Stimulation: excitement, novelty, and challenge.
- Hedonism: pleasure.
- Achievement: personal success and demonstrating competence.
- Dominance over people: social power/control over others, authority/right to command, decision-maker/leader, in charge/tell others what to do.
- Control of material resources: wealth/material possessions, being rich/having expensive things.
- Face: social recognition/respect, preserving public image/maintaining face.
- Personal security: sense of belonging/feeling others care about me, healthy/not sick, reciprocating favours/avoiding indebtedness, clean/neat, tidy.
- Societal security: national security/nation safe from enemies, social order/societal stability.
- Interpersonal conformity: avoiding upsetting others, politeness /courtesy, honor parents/show respect, polite/never disturb, respect parents/obey.
- Compliance: complying with expectations, self-discipline/resist temptation, obedient/meet obligations, do what told/follow rules, behave properly/avoid doing anything people say is wrong.
- Tradition: maintaining cultural and religious traditions.
- Humility: humble/modest, self- effacing and accepting my portion/submitting to life’s circumstances, don’t draw attention to self and don’t ask for more/satisfied with what one has.
- Benevolence: caring for the welfare of ingroup members, helpful/working for others welfare, honest/genuine, forgiving/willing to pardon.
- Dependability: responsible/dependable, loyal/faithful to friends.
- Tolerance: broadminded/tolerant, wisdom/mature understanding, listen to people who are different/ understand those who disagree.
- Societal concern: equality for all, social justice, world at peace, equal opportunity for all, treat all justly/protect the weak, world peace/harmony.
- Protecting nature: protect the environment, unity with nature, world beauty, care for environment, adapt/fit into nature.
The list above are common values across most cultures, but it doesn’t mean they are valid for everybody.
Each of us has different values and priorities that guide us towards different choices and decisions that can be right for us but not for others. To coexist and work together productively in a world that is each day more and more global, understanding diversity and the different views that exist is crucial. If we don’t accept and understand this, we will most likely feel misunderstood and frustrated.
Next, I’d like you to try this adapted exercise (even if you could list your values at the beginning of this post). I learned it a while ago, when I read the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey) and I found it very insightful:
Close your eyes and imagine your 80th birthday party…
You are surrounded by your family and loved ones, lifetime friends, work colleagues that have become close friends…
Putting aside any judgemental thoughts, how do you imagine your friends describing you? What is your family saying about you?
Make a list of these things.
This is the door to your values.