So what are Values anyway?

When a discussion around what values are opens up, the shared understanding is not always congruent. Examples discussed will usually fall within two brackets, a value or a behaviour. It is important to understand that a value is not a behaviour. For example, for an organisation, 'customer service' is not a value, it is something you provide. The value is what drives the organisation to provide the high quality customer service (hopefully); customer service is not the value, it is the behaviour. Perhaps it is accountability, diligence, or safety (depending on the service/product being delivered) which is the value that drives the behaviour.

After many discussions and researching different expressions of values provided by organisations in organisational value statements, on their missions, email footers, correspondences via newsletters, letterheads and media campaigns, I decided to find a concise, easy to understand way of putting forward a definition of what a value is.

I once read a Book written by the Existential Psychotherapist Rollo May called Man's search for himself. In this book Rollo talks of the experiences we have as shaping our values. He also wrote that with each experience we have, we place judgments on what is right and wrong.


So at the core of our values is judgement? This statement dawned an awakening within me as pieces of the puzzle started to fit together. The first piece was around why we have value conflicts. Perhaps we are judging the other person as wrong because we perceive the other person as denying us our own reality through their actions; challenging our values base. This is so challenging to us because our values are formed from our direct experience and so cannot be wrong.

What is it then that makes the other persons values better then ours? Nothing. It is the passion of experience and commitment to our own path that sees our values stance as so important to hold. Quite often the behaviour we see in others, we do not relate to a behaviour honouring any value as we are too busy defending our own, so we enter into conflict to defend.

Why then do we experience inner values conflict?

Life is complex. As we place judgments on behaviours that represent values, we do at times, because of our present situation, behave in ways that challenge our own values stance. Sometimes these behaviours can be the beginnings of a shift in what is internally important to us. However, because of this internal conflict, we don't want to see ourselves as the bad guy or girl and so struggle to accept our own behaviours which, can lead to stress. This stress can in turn lead to other ill mental health effects such as depression or anxiety. Other times, we will assimilate this challenging behaviour into our understanding of ourselves and add further complexity to what we know as our values structure.

I find an arrow best helps to visualise this origin and path of development from value to behaviour. Allow me to explain.

At one end of the arrow we have the feathers; without the feathers at the end of the arrow, there is no guidance and the arrow will not reach its intended target. These feathers represent our values. These values can be freedom, love, respect, honour, courage or compassion; to short list a few. From these values come our thoughts on how we feel life should be conducted (the arrows shaft); how we should behave toward others and how we expect others to behave toward us. Then there is the arrow head; representing behaviour. If an arrow were to fly toward us, we would not notice or care about the shaft the arrow head was attached to or the feathers that guide it. Our concern would simply be the threat of being pierced by the arrowhead. As a result, that is what we respond to. I hope the above passage has given you an understanding of the chain of influence our values have on our behaviour.

Now what if we were able to slow time down Matrix style? If at that point of collision when confronted with another persons values, what if we could take a moment to see the complete arrow? How would that change things? How might we then respond if we could understand what was guiding the other persons behaviour rather then our defence? What could we then do to help understand what was happening holistically during the interaction? To quote Viktor Frankl 'Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.'

Much like what I mentioned earlier around the ease of interpreting messages, understanding what is going on for another person when we are triggered and firing on all cylinders is at times just too difficult. It takes a lot of focus, will, discipline and presence to your own state of mind, before we can even begin to be able to try and relate to another person. So when we are faced with the arrowhead threatening to pierce our pride, heart or sanity, what is it that enables us to say "I hear what you're saying and I get your passion; I feel it too." rather then continue on the defensive and justify the existence of who we are? The answer is simple, however the execution is not; we are too busy feeling.

Engaging in conflict is an emotive response to a challenging situation with another entity; living or symbolic. When we are pushed, we push back, it is a pretty simple equation. 'The art of conflict resolution is not to feel conflictual.' When we seek understanding amid the turmoil of another's emotions before we engage in our own, we are better equipped to understand the rest of the arrow facing us. The key lies in engaging in the other persons emotions before our own. As such, empathy becomes an important part of our conflict management arsenal. There is nothing more perplexing in our present discussion, than two people in conflict with the same value working in both. As different as people are, our responses aren't as such. When you break it down there are only absolutes with a few variables thrown in. We either get hurt or we don't. We either retaliate or we don't. We can be aggressive or not. We can be conciliatory or not (I think you get the message). It is feeling that makes it so.

I am not advocating here for the controlling of emotions (if only it were that simple). Moreover, I am advocating for the understanding of our emotional response, its origin and its expression. Once we are able to nurture emotional resilience, understanding and self compassion, we will be in a better place to do so on behalf of others. We will be more able to defuse conflict because we do not see it as such and we will be more attuned to the values that drive us. Knowing ourselves and the paths we have walked, the experiences that have made us who we are, is knowledge that no one else has. No matter how much you try and communicate it, no one knows you better than you. Sometimes it takes a bit of work to uncover the truth, to look in the mirror and to acknowledge you are you, and that is OK. Actually no, that is brilliant!

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