Along with humans, books were a huge influence on my childhood. And among books, the particular genre of fairy tales had an even bigger influence. I used to read fairy tales almost every night before I went to sleep. As a result, I developed a strong sense of morals and values – or in other words – a strong sense of right and wrong.
For the longest time, I lived my life by these values and of course, I have no regrets for the same. But one day, I realised, how I was fooling myself in the name of values. The problem arose because I started using my sense of values as a yardstick to measure others. That’s where I fell flat on my face.
Too much of a good thing is bad, they say. And I understand why! So long as I was using values to guide my thoughts and actions, it was fine. But unconsciously, they became a measure for me to connect with others. As a result, I was constantly judging others. I couldn’t connect with people. Now one may wonder why is it important for us to connect with people whose values don’t match with ours. Well, that’s an important one. If I put myself on a pedestal and look down at others, I am clearly defying a good portion of my values there unconsciously – to be fair to people, to be respectful and compassionate.
Values aren’t virtues from heaven. Our values are a result of the beliefs that we hold about the world.
There are many factors and circumstances that influence a person’s value system. Just like how no two people’s circumstances can be the same, no two individual’s value systems can be the same too. They can be similar, but not the same. If I choose to disconnect with people based on differences in values, I will never be able to understand people. I will never be able to learn. And worst of all, I will fail to recognise the individual’s uniqueness.
There’s a very thin line between believing in something for yourself versus holding that as the truth. For most of us, that distinction is lost. We think the way we see the world is what is true of the world. What I believe of you is true of you. However, what I believe about you is my perception of you – it could be quite far from the real you. If I am open to seeing this distinction, I will be more open to changing my perspective based on changing situations. Else, I’ll perhaps be living in a fool’s paradise.
Our values prevent us from changing. Even when we see that a new belief or behaviour can add more value to our lives, we refuse to change because we are restricted by our old value system.
A simple example:
- If a parent believes that it is not good to appreciate their children – They develop a value system from there and give it a name of modesty or humility. As a result, their child might lack in confidence or they may miss seeing their child’s excellence, or miss connecting on key aspects with the child too. However, they won’t consider changing, because they have a strong value that is limiting their holistic perception.
- If a person holds hard work as a value, they may get angry, irritated, or upset if they see someone succeed with smart work. They might miss seeing excellence as intelligence and efficiency. They might instead make a value judgment.
Likewise, religious beliefs become a value system at times, preventing us from connecting with others. Patriotism could be something that disconnects too. Any sort of distinctions that create this equation – “I/We versus them” is harmful. This equation divides. When we are divided, we can’t connect. When we can’t connect, we can’t influence or be influenced. And when there’s no influence, there’s no learning, no respect and thereby, no value!
Values aren’t bad so long as we don’t use them as a means to judge, condemn, or disconnect with people. If someone lies, if I make a value judgment that they are dishonest, I will immediately condemn them. If I consider it further, I might seek to understand what’s making the person hide the truth. Knowing that something else is of more value to them than honesty, I can choose to influence through that. Me judging, punishing, or condemning a person won’t make them get any better. But by understanding, we can influence.
The key value of humanity, I feel, is compassion. Compassionate individuals are inclusive of everyone. Without compassion, all the other values lose their value. Imagine honesty without compassion – can only hurt, not heal. Honesty with compassion would be such a powerful and influential one. Abdul Kalam, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa are fondly remembered for their compassion that helped them create such a difference in humanity.
We don’t need to drop our values. But if we have compassion as the over-arching value that guides the rest, I think we’d be in a great place.