In my journey through life, I’ve often found that many people—including me—take their core values for granted. What I mean is this: we form our inner values early on in life, based on what we’re told is right, wrong, important, etc. and we don’t pause to reevaluate these values as time goes by. Life goes on, and we hold values without even truly knowing why. Today, I want to talk about that tendency and how to break free from the rut of maintaining deeply held personal values that it turns out are not so deep or so personal at all.
Life is a blend of personal experience and vicarious learning
As we live our lives, we will learn about some things by going through them ourselves, and some would argue that this is the best way to learn—through personal experience. Other things we will learn vicariously, through hearing others discuss their feelings and thoughts and using empathy to imagine how we might react in similar circumstances. There are benefits and drawbacks to both, and I think both vicarious learning and personal-experience learning are very valuable. With vicarious learning, though, a specific problem can pop up: sometimes we take a bit of information that we learned vicariously and we carry it like a torch, without ever once questioning it. When this approach bleeds into our personal value system, trouble can arise.
Sometimes what we think are our own core values are not ours
Can you think of any values that you have that you’ve carried with you over time because someone important to you said you should? Perhaps a parent or a teacher told you that some characteristic is of utmost importance, and you’ve clutched that belief closely to your heart for your entire life without really knowing why, except that someone you trusted once told you to. There’s nothing wrong with learning from others—but rote acceptance without questioning “why?” can do more harm than good.
It’s good to “hit refresh” intermittently to determine what matters to us
As we grow and change over the years of our lives, so do our core values. There’s nothing wrong with holding a lifelong belief that “honesty is the best policy” or “better to practice compassion than criticism.” However, if you’ve never stopped to question your core values, you might find that when you do, they don’t “pass muster” anymore—sometimes what mattered most to us at one time in our lives matters little when some time has passed.
Make an exercise of it
So, my challenge to you today is this: examine your core beliefs. Hit the “refresh” button by asking yourself why these things are important. If you can’t answer that question, set the belief or value aside and work on developing the ones you do still believe in after a thorough self-examination. You may find some of your beliefs and values to be bolstered when you take this approach and really give some deeper thought to why they matter so much to you. I promise that, if nothing else, the exercise will be enlightening and help you to better know what truly matters to you.