What makes thousands of people turn out worldwide to protest in the middle of a global pandemic, and what does this tell us about their values ?
Throughout history protests have acted as the catalyst for change and have shaped the world we live in today, from the Suffragettes, Civil rights movement, Stonewall, Labour movements and so many others. There is typically some commentary on ‘legitimate’ forms of protest and acceptable levels of civil disobedience, but many of the changes we now take for granted simply would not have happened solely by banner waving. After the killing of another unarmed black man in the U.S by police protests erupted worldwide, and in the aftermath there was outrage by some at the toppling of a statue at one such demonstration in the U.K. This week also saw some of those claiming to want to “protect the statues” urinating next to memorials, giving the nazi salute and scuffling with police, seemingly conflicting with their projected values.
This was never intended to be a political blog, however as ive turned 40 this week i’m in a reflective mood and have been considering how my own values have changed in recent years. My days of direct action may be over, however i stand in solidarity with those fighting injustices in their own lives. Legality does not equal morality. – Naegeli’s law.
Although clearly i’m no behavioural psychologist i’ve always had a fascination with human behaviour, particularly my own. So what makes us do the things we do?
As well as our basic needs, it is ultimately our values and beliefs that drive our behaviours, whether we are aware of it consciously or not. Many people float through life from one crisis or emotional response to the next without really considering why they feel or act the way they do.
Intrinsically linked to our beliefs, our values are generally the things we view as most important to us, like honesty, justice or freedom. Sometimes these are grouped together with terms such as ‘family values’, ‘national values’ or ‘religious values’.
Values are not fixed and should be reflected on and adjusted as we grow and develop as part of the human experience, but being aware of them is a necessary first step.
When we connect with our values to make decisions, we make a deliberate choice to focus on what is important to us. We are able to engage with the world more intentionally, and lead a more fulfilling life.
I often work with volunteers to help them identify their core values and beliefs. We look at how this impacts on behaviours and the things we view as important. Being aware of our values and recognising how our beliefs affect our behaviour can act as motivation to strive to be the best versions of ourselves. I love values based work because when we genuinely connect with our values and understand how our internal world truly affects us in the ‘real world’ it can be transformational, and bring about long term behavioural change.
So what happens when our own values don’t align with our current situation, or our needs, or even general convenience? Whether that is a relationship, employment or general life. What level of flexibility can we apply to our values, and how do we reconcile these inconsistencies?
Honesty, for example is a commonly stated personal value, but not everyone is as honest as might be desired, and we may too frequently find ourselves being selectively honest. Although values are essentially aspirational and act as a guide, if they are not consciously engaged with or applied to everything that we do, what use are they other than to project a vision of how we want to be seen?
Do you know what your personal values truly are and do you live your life in line with them ?
“One reason we roll our eyes when people start talking about values is that everyone talks a big values game but very few people actually practice one. It can be infuriating, and it’s not just individuals who fall short of the talk. In our experience, only about 10 percent of organizations have operationalized their values into teachable and observable behaviors that are used to train their employees and hold people accountable.” Brené Brown – Dare to Lead
Does your organisation truly embody its own values or are they winging it with morality?
Just because an organisation picks a few buzzwords like ‘inclusive’ or ‘non judgmental’ and puts them at the top of their branded stationery does not mean that it embodies those values. So what is the point of espousing such values if we or our organisation do not truly practice them in our affairs? A commodification of morality perhaps, package wrapped and branded to appeal to others rather than a belief system that truly drives change, and what deals do we make compromising our own values for those of an organisation, or a nation, or a tribe?
If you have ever faced redundancy, “organisational restructuring”, or tendering you may have had some conflict between your own values and those of ‘the board’ who make all the decisions. You may have felt that the board had an agenda, or were walking a fine line with legality. You may have felt undervalued, unappreciated, dis-empowered, overworked or just been at a crossroads. I can wholly relate to those feelings, and find myself at somewhat of a crossroads here currently in terms of my own employment.
If we highly value our basic needs of financial security we may stay in a job that is perhaps no longer fulfilling, or we may be asked to compromise some of our own personal values or standards for another paycheck. Is this a deal we are willing to make?
If we value equality or justice more highly than a statue’s right to exist and have exhausted other options, that may drive behaviour, particularly if a belief in the justice system makes an individual value state justice less, based on personal experience. If we value national pride higher than equality for example and believe some humans deserve more rights than others then this undoubtedly shows up in our values system and behaviours.
Practicing unconditional acceptance as a basic strategy to counter general unhelpful beliefs is something we can all do to help manage some of our emotions. Reminding ourselves ‘life is not always fair’ and ‘people are not always virtuous.’ At times however more direct action is required, but which of our values we are willing to trade off, is of course ultimately a matter of personal choice.
In some of my most challenging moments in recent years I have referred to ancient philosophy for guidance. Epictetus, who was born a Roman slave, wrote often about living a virtuous and joyful life, despite the challenges of his day and i find reassurance in his words. What would the Stoics however think of the modern notion of ‘values‘ and the flexibility to which they are often applied and commodified. Virtues are defined as ‘a consistently applied and habitual practice’ and the stoics valued living a virtuous life above all else. https://dailystoic.com/4-stoic-virtues/
So, In these uncertain times I reaffirm to myself daily; ‘Rather than floating through life I will act with intent, striving for personal excellence in the things within my control, and aligning myself with my core values. I will engage with other humans virtuously and compassionately, and through this practice I will lead a more enriching and fulfilling life.’