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Spiritual Topic for February-March 2024 - Personal Values

Updated: Mar 27


In the last topic, we focused on spiritual virtues. In this month’s topic, we are expanding from virtues to personal values.

As a reminder, the primary difference between virtues and values is that virtues are universally held standards of high moral value, whereas values are principles or qualities that an individual considers to be important and desirable, which may or may not be of high morals. Values depend on the beliefs, experiences, and the ‘raising/programming’ of an individual and, therefore, differ from person to person and even throughout an individual’s life.

Babies and children absorb the virtues and values from those around them. They mimic behaviour which affects their development. This is part of the environmental factors that shape every human being, with nurture playing its part alongside nature. When children become teenagers, their natural inclination is to rebel, test boundaries, and see how they fit into life and how they can make their mark. Their identity is shifting from the values of the family and external influences to developing their own self-identity. As a teenager matures and reaches adulthood, their core values, which are their foundation values, may stabilize and solidify.

As we grow and evolve, one’s values tend to change through cycles of development. In our ancestors’ time, this wasn’t the case because so much less changed in one’s environment. In today’s world, there is great change. To effectively manage this change, our values must shift and change. We modify our day-to-day (focus) values to deal with change. As we mature, we become more skilful with our values-in-action. When we become more skilful, we shift to a greater development cycle such that our future values come into play. Values are dynamic in their operation.

Note that there is a shadow side to every value. The shadow must be cleaned up before the value can truly shine. Another way to describe this shadow effect is the oppositional behaviour if the value has not been matured. By way of example, personal foundation values lie behind our experience of failure and success. These foundation values automatically move to the future as either hope or despair. Hope is the activation of future values; despair is their negation.

Humanity is driven by two opposing factors: the physical service to self/survival of the fittest and highly spiritual and ethical values of truth, compassion, etc., which are in service to All.

We need to be aware of social and other influences and how they impact our values, and also how some values can compromise other values. As we build awareness, it enables us to make conscious choices regarding our personal values. Spiritual values as a form of self-transcendence can be hard to achieve. However, they are more easily realised when applied to one aspect, one project, one task, or one part of life. These higher spiritual and ethical values can be realised through conscious focus and choice when one is aware of their ideals.

Spiritual virtues are the highest and greatest attributes and are also the hardest to achieve on an ongoing, consistent day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis. Throughout history, there have been a few individuals, such as Jesus and Buddha, who have been said to personify these virtues and who have had mystical abilities (parting the sea, healing the sick, raising the dead, etc.) that most do not possess.

History refers to these individuals as flawless and perfect role models.

Yet Jesus never said he was perfect. He tried to show people that they were more than just flesh and blood and that they could be just like him. Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” (1)

Even though the Buddha lived a spiritually virtuous life and achieved enlightenment, he never claimed to be anything other than an ordinary human. Like Jesus, Buddha taught others that they could also achieve what he did.

Religious texts, including the Bible, Bhagavad Gita, and many others, include stories and advice on how to behave to conform, to get along with one’s neighbours, and to perform one’s worldly duties for society’s welfare.

Throughout humanity, there has been order. Even within small tribes, there is a leader whom people look up to. Most people seek a leader, and it’s the same in nature. This can help to establish order so things don’t break down.

We raise this subject within Personal Values because the guidelines and rules outlining what one needs to do to fit into any given social environment affect one’s behaviour. Our behaviour affects our values, and our values affect our behaviours.

Whether one considers him or herself to be religious or not, these commandments and guidelines have permeated other aspects of society that impact our daily lives (local laws, national laws, social group guidelines, organisational codes of conduct, etc.) In addition, an individual’s behaviour is affected by one’s age, position in society, position in one’s family/work, and how one perceives their society as well as their respective place within their society.

Contemplating this, perhaps there is a place for order and a place for independence. What are your personal thoughts and perspectives? Do you want order and leaders? Do you shun all rules, electing to live only by your own rules? Do you appreciate order as well as your own sovereignty and rules? Maybe it depends, and if so, on what factors?

There has been much research into what motivates individual behaviours and values. In the March 2023 spiritual topic on Attention and Intention, we referred to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a theory that suggests people are motivated by five categories of needs, presented in order: Physiological, Security, Social, Esteem, and Self-Actualization. The premise of Maslow’s theory is that higher needs begin to arise after people have satisfied needs at the lower levels.

In that topic, we shared our belief that there is some credence to Maslow’s premise. If one is struggling to fulfil his or her need for food, water, shelter, and clothing, it may be difficult to at the same time focus on self-actualisation and spiritual growth. And yet, we also challenged the premise with the idea that some individuals need to hit rock bottom or experience their ‘dark night of the soul’ in order to receive the calling and have the desire to make significant life changes. When everything falls apart, one must rise like the Phoenix from the ashes, and it’s in this process where one experiences strength, wisdom and growth. While most of us yearn to have our basic needs met, times of immense challenge can provide great lessons and evolution. When our basic needs are challenged, we can be pushed into a state where we must become more creative in order to problem solve. The phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” describes this well.

Shalom Schwartz’s Theory of Basic Human Values is one of the most commonly used and tested theories in the field of behavioural research. This theory was introduced in 1987 and has been refined over the years into its most recent 2012 version.

The Schwartz theory concerns the basic or core values that people in all cultures recognise. It defines values as “desirable, trans-situational goals, varying in importance, that serve as guiding principles in people’s lives”. (2)

In the 1992 model, Schwartz offered ten basic values intended to include core values recognised within cultures around the world. (3) In 2012, Schwartz et al. added the last two values. (4)

  1. Self-Direction – Independent thought and action; choosing, creating, exploring.

  2. Stimulation – Excitement, novelty, and challenge in life.

  3. Hedonism – Pleasure and sensuous gratification for oneself.

  4. Achievement – Personal success through demonstrating competence according to social standards.

  5. Power – Social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources.

  6. Security – Safety, harmony, and stability of society, of relationships, and of self.

  7. Conformity – Restraint of actions, inclinations, and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social expectations or norms.

  8. Tradition – Respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs and ideas that traditional culture or religion provide the self.

  9. Benevolence – Preserving and enhancing the welfare of those with whom one is in frequent personal contact (the ‘in-group’).

  10. Universalism – Understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature.

  11. Humility – The acknowledgement of one’s insignificance in the grand scheme of things.

  12. Face or Appearance (FA) – Security and power via the keeping up of one’s own public image and avoidance of humiliation.   

Author’s note: We feel like Schwartz’s definition of humility (“the acknowledgement of one’s insignificance in the grand scheme of things”) sounds more like resignation. To us, humility is more about doing what you are called to do or what you love to do without desiring praise or public credit. Merriam-Webster defines humility as “freedom from pride or arrogance; the quality or state of being humble.” (5) Cambridge Dictionary defines humility as “the quality of not being proud because you are aware of your bad qualities”, and “the feeling or attitude that you have no special importance that makes you better than others; lack of pride”. (6)

The motivational domains (values) were included within four different dimensions which fit within a circular model and, in essence, highlight the goals pursued by the outlined values:

  1. Self-Transcendence (TRAS): Promoting the wellbeing of society and nature above one's own interests, highlighting the acceptance of others as equals, as well as a concern for their wellbeing.

  2. Conservation (CONS): Preserving stability and security in relations with one’s surroundings, with the emphasis on subservient self-repression, the preservation of traditional practices and protecting stability.

  3. Self-enhancement (ENHA): Promoting self-interest at the expense of others, emphasising the search for personal success and dominance over others.

  4. Openness to change (OPEN): Controlling one's own impulses and behaviour, according to social norms and expectations. (7)  

In the 2012 model, Schwartz et al. added 19 refined values, which take the ten basic values and provide even more differentiation as follows: three types of universalism (concern, nature, and tolerance), two types of benevolence (caring and dependability), two types of self-direction (thought and action), two types of conformity (rules and interpersonal), two types of power (dominance and resources) and two types of security (personal and societal).

We feel these models are drivers of human behaviours rather than values. They offer a logical rationale for the motivation of human thoughts, actions, and behaviors...but do they always hold true? Are there situations when a belief, tradition, or value is held so tightly that nothing can sway it?

Which do you think is more beneficial for spiritual growth—keeping an open mind or having a closed mind with fixed ideas? This is not a trick question. There are advantages to opening one’s mind to new concepts and possibilities and to challenging previously held beliefs. There are also benefits to having a clear idea of one’s truths.

However, when one holds on to their own beliefs too tightly, it can become a shortcoming and/or a spiritual trap. When one rigidly holds onto their beliefs, they may come to believe they are highly virtuous, and only those who share the same beliefs are virtuous. This can lead to judging others, placing oneself (or a particular group of individuals, religion, race, etc.) on a pedestal and believing they are better and more righteous than others.

Other spiritual traps related to values are setting high standards for others (it is best to focus on oneself instead), expecting others to share the same values, and looking down on others who follow a different set of values.

Expecting others to share your personal values often starts with good intentions. For example, a vegan who shares a deep love for animals may feel this affection so intensely that she wants others to feel the same and, as a result, looks down on those who eat or wear animal products. Another individual meditates twice a day and, through his practice, has deepened his connection with his Higher Self. Because he wants others to experience this as well, he zealously shares his specific practice along with the belief that meditation is the only way to achieve this deep connection.

Yet we need to be mindful of thinking we know what is best for another individual or what they are here to experience. These examples illustrate the importance of focusing on oneself when it comes to desired values and ideals. You may recognise focusing on oneself (inner work) as a common theme through our spiritual topics. There are many paths up the spiritual mountain, and different people choose different paths.

Understanding and expressing one’s personal values can get even more complex when looking at the difference between values and ideals.

Cambridge Dictionary defines values as “the beliefs people have, especially about what is right and wrong and what is most important in life, that control their behaviour”. (8) Merriam-Webster defines ideals as “a standard of perfection, beauty, or excellence”. (9)

We can have different ideals from values. Our high standards (ideals) may not always align with our values, especially when life is crazy, when we are stressed, and when we operate from a place of fear.

We have been influenced by and bought into ‘the matrix’, which includes programmed beliefs such as working long and hard, that the ends justify the means, and many more. The pressures of today’s world can shift us away from spiritual virtues to the extent that we are no longer embodying them and are just surviving to stay alive.

For example, a value may be to get through the day and make as much money as possible. This may be for an unselfish reason—such as to provide for one’s family—and yet it may come at the cost of spending quality time with one’s family or at the detriment of another.

How can we live a life right now embodying spiritual virtues and still do well without others taking advantage of us? How can we set clear boundaries to achieve this? Is it attainable to be someone who entirely embodies spiritual virtues?

Can we survive or even better—THRIVE—while embodying spiritual virtues and values?

We believe it is possible to stay true to one’s values and, at the same time, thrive. To do so, one must create healthy boundaries.

Creating healthy boundaries requires self-awareness, self-confidence, and honest communication. Examples of healthy boundaries include saying no to requests that do not align with your values, desires, and/or time availability; prioritizing your own needs and wellness; sharing your expectations and commitments (“I only have 30 minutes”); and being honest ( “I respect your perspective even though mine differs”).

Walking along the mounds of rice fields trekking in the Himalayas, I came across an old man sitting quietly under an Alder tree. I asked the direction to Kathmandu. He pointed to his left. To be sure, I asked again. He pointed to his right. I was confused. He then said: “It is in the direction you wish it to be”.”—A true story by Grandmother Mulara.  

We are grateful to Grandmother Mulara, who helped develop this topic. For a deeper review of values, look for the upcoming Masterclass series on Values, which will be presented by Grandmother Mulara in January – March 2024, exclusively for CC members.

 

Discussion Questions 

  1. How do you think your core values were shaped by the way you were raised? How have these changed or developed through time?

  2. What else has shaped your core values, and how have these changed over time?

  3. Can you think of a defining moment which challenged your perspective and forced you to consider new personal values?

  4. Have you experienced a situation where your values and ideals conflicted? How did you address this discord?

  5. Which do you think is more beneficial for spiritual growth—keeping an open mind or having a closed mind with fixed ideas? Why?

  6. Do you believe one can stay true to their personal and spiritual values and at the same time thrive? Why or why not?

  7. How can one establish and maintain healthy boundaries?

  8. In addition to healthy boundaries, are there other important qualities or actions one can take to stand in their values?

  

Footnotes

  1. “John 14:12”, BibleRef, date accessed 10 November, 2023, https://www.bibleref.com/John/14/John-14-12.html.

  2. Shalom H. Swartz, “Schwartz, S. H. (2015). Basic individual values: Sources and consequences. In D. Sander and T. Brosch (Eds.), Handbook of value. Oxford: UK, Oxford University Press”, ResearchGate, January 2012, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/277718092_Schwartz_S_H_2015_Basic_individual_values_Sources_and_consequences_In_D_Sander_and_T_Brosch_Eds_Handbook_of_value_Oxford_UK_Oxford_University_Press.

  3. Shalom H. Swartz, “Basic Human Values: An Overview” (Theory, Methods, and Applications), The Hebrew University of Jerusalem – Swartz paper, 2006, https://uranos.ch/research/references/Schwartz_2006/Schwartzpaper.pdf.

  4. August Corrons Gimenez and Lluis Garay Tamajon, “Analysis of the third-order structuring of Shalom Schwartz’s theory of basic human value”, ScienceDirect, June 2019, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2405844018372773#bib31.

  5. “Humility”, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, date accessed 10 November, 2023, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/humility.

  6. “Humility”, Cambridge Dictionary, date accessed 10 November, 2023, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/humility.

  7. August Corrons Gimenez and Lluis Garay Tamajon, “Analysis of the third-order structuring of Shalom Schwartz’s theory of basic human value”, ScienceDirect, June 2019, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2405844018372773#bib31.

  8. “Value”, Cambridge Dictionary, date accessed 5 September, 2023, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/value.

  9. Merriam-Webster, “Ideal”, date accessed 18 September 2023, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ideal.

  

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