So, do you think you are a values-based person? I think a form of this question was regularly on my mind when I was Head of the first explicitly values-based school in Oxfordshire in the UK. The staff, students and I would want to check out if we were walking our talk and not just pretending to ourselves.
One way of checking is to consider an ethical dilemma and what thoughts you would have and what actions would follow. I was visiting a school in the city of Lincoln in the UK that wanted to be awarded the Enhanced Quality Mark as a values-based school. I was invited to observe a lesson in Year 6 (10–11-year-olds), who were considering a series of ethical dilemmas. I will share one with you. Please read it through, pause and reflect, then decide what you would do?
I am curious about what you decided. I have been amazed when using this dilemma on training courses with adults the range of responses I have received. Would it surprise you to learn that most adults would be prepared to cheat? However, the students in the school all said that they wouldn’t cheat, as they had learned over several years the value of values. That it is their values that lead to the choices that they make. I challenged them by suggesting that they were giving this answer because they thought it was the one that the teacher expected. They were quite affronted by this suggestion, so I knew they meant it.
Values lead to behaviours we do, especially when we think others are not watching us! We can all pick up litter when we think we are being watched or, show kindness, respect or any of the other positive values. Remember though that we are not perfect and sometimes let ourselves down out of awareness. My wife parked her car in a supermarket car park. This was the result:
My wife returned to her car (AE14 XUY) to find that she couldn’t put her shopping in the car because of the way that the other car had parked. She had to ask the manager of the supermarket to ask the person who had parked so closely next to return to the car. The lady came out, full of apologies, saying that she hadn’t realised how near she had parked. She had acted out of awareness, not checking her behaviour against values such as respect and empathy.
How much of your behaviour is often outside of your awareness? Most of what we do every day is habitual — we always do it that way. Check out how you are sitting or standing now and what your hands are doing. Chances are that is what they often do. What expression do you habitually have — are you a frowner or one who smiles a lot. Once you are aware of habitual behaviour you can check it out against your values to ensure that there isn’t a mismatch.
It all comes down to your values.
What are your core values that you bring with you when you are sitting eating a meal with friends? How do you express them? Does your behaviour change depending on the people with whom you are eating your meal? Such routines help you to check out whether you are walking your talk.
What you are engaged in is nurturing your ethical intelligence, which is your ability to ethically self-regulate your behaviour, be emotionally intelligent and a critical thinker. It therefore enhances your consciousness, giving you the gift of altruistic awareness of self, others and the planet.
Finally let me share with you a chart that I’m told helps us to see the importance of values in our lives.
Have a good look at the picture and the words that build up from the bottom, beginning with what is mainly outside of our conscious awareness: our instincts and subconscious beliefs. Often such beliefs develop in early childhood and stay with us throughout our lives. Above the red line are our values: positive and limiting. In a VbE school we nurture the positive values helping us to control limiting values, which do not serve us well, such as greed or jealousy.
The choices we make in life, such as the career path we decide to follow, or our friendship group are based on our values. Change our values and our choices change too. This in turn leads us to develop a mindset — a way of seeing the world and the narrative we use to describe our experience. All this makes our character — the person we are. Our character creates our destiny in life and the legacy we leave behind when we die. What legacy will you leave?
For me, values are my friends, as they help me in my relationships, in my work and in my free time. They help me to achieve my meaning and purpose in life — where I want to go and how I would hope others think of me.
Life is not all plain sailing but presents to us many challenges. This is the natural human condition, but our values are there to support us on our life’s journey for the benefit not only of ourselves but others and ultimately the beautiful planet on which we live.
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