Reasoning towards a meaningful life, part 4: Values

This is part 4 in a 5 part exercise to reason myself out of leading a worthless life.

In this part I’ll look at the values and morals we bring to the table when comparing and judging the world and ourselves. In a simple view I’d say our values are the things we base our views and judgements on. The measuring tape we apply. I want to know if these values make sense. I have a feeling they are not very consciously installed.

pic by Michaela Kobyakov

Most values on which we base our opinions (of ourselves) are influenced by:

  • group ideas
  • habits
  • examples
  • the way you were raised

pic by Marcus Österberg

GROUP IDEAS

Psychologists and Social Scientists have written plenty enough books about how our personal morals are shaped and influenced by the group in which we exist. Being it a circle of family, a circle of friends, a religion circle or people you identify with over the internet or television shows.

Excesses are peer pressure, collective blind spots, censure, masse hysteria and people who do not pick up on values: the psychopaths. But we’ll leave the excesses for the scientists, I want to think about the normal, soft-spoken values all of us got and keep getting from the groups of people we interact with.

Group values we internalize are about social behaviour, decency, bodily presentation, whether leadership is desired, whether personal sacrifices are desired, should we be obedient, which things we should be outraged about, which things in life are desirable and many more.

pic by Scasha

Of course a group has a different goal than an individual. Perhaps its values should be examined and judged before embracing them as our own?

Ah, but since values are such a muddled bunch, it is hard to distinguish were your own moral values centre around and which one are based on the group you’ve been hanging out with.
Perhaps this is not a problem after all. We are group animals after all. Perhaps we can rely on group values to be of some good for individuals too.

pic by Danagouws

One thing to do help us distinguishing some between group values and personal morals is comparing different groups. When you travel to another country it is very easy to pick up on the difference in “value flavour”.
For example: the Dutch are very much about efficiency. We will try to optimalise any production process. We’re also a trading country for centuries and we’re quite practical when it comes to marrying morals with profit. Outbursts, flamboyance and patriotism is not in our blood.
Norway, on the other hand, values family time highly. Women are equal to men and this shows in society. They love to spend time outdoors. There are
Norsk people get tired quickly when dealing with Dutch people trying to set up business in Norway. They are so pushy! They take no time to live, to obey the subtle pleasantries of human interaction. The Dutch get frustrated with the Norwegians, everything is so slow and fluid! No solid information is given, no initiaries.
A good example how departure from different values makes for different “flavour”.

pic by Arancia

Another example is how as a culture the USA views and values workers in retail and food industry. They are servers. They are servants. They are there to serve you. You can talk down to them. You are the costumer.
In the Netherlands, and also in France, it is different. People working in shops and cafe’s are the hosts of that venue. You are a guest. As a guest you are expected to be polite. You greet the server upon entering. You thank them when they hand you something. Even though you bring money you are dependent on the server and it’s a joint collaboration to get you the product/experience you desire. You are not better than the person helping you.

Traveling and talking to people from other countries and other social groups is good way to examine the values one takes from their own country and their own groups. Do I want to be a down to earth, efficient Dutch woman? Do I want to embrace the love for tv shows about singing? Do I want to join in the conviction society is crumbling down and we are no longer safe in our own homes?

Groups can have some specific and quirky ideas about life and what makes a valuable life.

HABITS

We are also creatures of habit. We’re lazy beings, mostly. Once your values are established and you use them to judge yourselves and others, it’s far easier to keep reusing them than it is to re-evaluate them once in a while.

I’ve got a life to live, I’m busy as it is, get away from me!
pic by Piotr Bizior

Re-evalution of ones morals and values feels like another chore to jot down on the old to-do list…

hmm. A new habit can be installed though. Without examining the values in dept. So that’s half the chore then. Doable. Especially when it’s wrapped in another new habit that is installed, such as judging less.

EXAMPLES

pic by Marinela Prodan

We pick up plenty values from other people. Being it aunts who like to dress up or famous people.
In my society examples are presented through the media a lot. I have to keep in mind media filter and colour every story to serve their own media goals.
I also have to keep in mind that any other person I look at in order to learn from, I’m looking from the outside. From the outside, exemplary people often look coherent. Consistent.
I have no clue about their inner torrents and multiplicity. I should remind myself that these people too have rich inner lives and are not as clear cut internally as they appear on the outside. I should not expect myself to be.

Famous people and media also help to shift values and morals. We all know examples of media stories where suddenly it is ok to say something about other people, to voice (or even have) an opinion that was unthinkable 20 years ago.
An opinion about Muslims. Homosexuals. Women providing home lives. Evolutionists. Surgeons. Cyclists. Squirrels.
We should not take those opinions and run with them. We should not get caught up in the crazy of today. We should not be quick to adapt our values based on the news.

THE WAY YOU WERE RAISED
This is a strong well of values from which you have taken many. It’s a good idea to shed some of them. To dilute all of them.
As a child it was probably easier to handle life by seeing things in black and white. As an adult you know the world isn’t like that. It’s a complex world. There are no clear cut truths. This is nothing to be worried about, complexity is not more difficult to handle than simplicity.
It’s just more nuanced. And a great source of beauty.

CONCLUSION
Values are taken from many sources outside of us. Groups, other individuals and child hood habits. It’s a good idea to be more mellow, to ease up. Both on the values and on the sources you took them from.

pic by Belovodchenko Anton

This is part 4 in a 5 part thinking exercise. Here are the other parts:

1. being in existence
2. being human
3. being judgemental
4. having values
5. having a brain
6. having a heart
7. being me
8. being perfectionist or just admitting you can’t count

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