Photo: lightpoet/Shutterstock

Should Our Values Define Us?

by Christine DeSadeleer Jan 13, 2010
Although it is easy to judge the rights and wrongs of others, it might be time to accept the human tendency to shift values.

When I set foot in a new place, consciously or unconsciously, I’m assessing the people around me. This is true whether I’ve driven three hours north to Lake Tahoe or have just landed in South Africa.

Putting people into boxes, for good or for bad, is our mind’s way of easily identifying what might threaten us, and at the same time, where we best belong. It’s actually an evolutionary survival mechanism, one it is good to recognize so we can counteract it when necessary.

But how exactly do we determine another person’s values? And what do we do when they seemingly don’t correspond with our own?

Religion often guides our values and beliefs. Either we are brought up with a certain religion, and therefore were instilled with a particular set of rights and wrongs. Or, we go against what we have been taught, believing the opposite – or somewhere in the middle – is truth, and so we subscribe to a different religion, or no religion whatsoever.

Unfortunately, condemnation often quickly sets in once we’ve subscribed to a certain belief system. And we all have one, even those hipsters that don’t think they do.

Judging From Afar

In the media these days, there is a lot to judge from high up on the mountaintop (really, isn’t that the main thing the media does?). I just learned via the Values Gals that Brit Hume gave Tiger Woods some advice: Buddhism won’t give him “the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith.”

Sweet. Guess Tiger is a Buddhist (and apparently a Christian wouldn’t do such things). Not sure if this is a new, post-sexilicious-scandal-breakdown, or if he’s been a devoted one for years. Wait, I guess this quote comes from a 2008 Reuters interview with the man himself:

In the Buddhist religion you have to work for it yourself, internally, in order to achieve anything in life and set up the next life. It is all about what you do and you get out of it what you put into it.

Amy of Values Gals adds:

Okay, I’m not a Buddhist but that makes a lot of sense to me. I believe that it is what is inside of us that guides us in our choices, helps us become better people and allows us to reach our goals and realize our dreams.

I’ve began to wonder lately if our values are not only guided by our backgrounds and experiences, what we normally deem as “inside of us”, but also by something bigger than, and outside of, us. Something that may force a change in those values depending on the situation in which we find ourselves.

Accepting Fate

Though I am no Tiger Woods (fingers crossed), during a recent astrology reading, I was pressed to accept that I must learn how to hold a fate that includes both taking care of people and sometimes hurting them.

Turns out it is in my nature to be drawn to the dark underbelly of the human persona (like I didn’t know that already).

Hearing this did not exactly sit well. I believe similar to most people out there, I like to think of myself as a good person who tries to be aware of the course of my actions and how they may effect others. But why exactly should I try and fight myself when it is my fate to learn how to accept this humanness? Maybe real values are based on wholeheartedly looking at our sometimes ugly/sometimes insensitive/sometimes cruel side and handing it some love?

It also made me realize even more (or once again?), that if we haven’t walked in the shoes of another person, how can we know their lesson in this life? I understand this can be a slippery slope – a good example is the possible manslaughter defense of a man who shot and killed an abortion doctor in order to save “countless” unborn babies – but, on the whole, I’m not sure condemning others for something that is a necessary part of their path is the best way to create a more harmonious existence.

Of course, a lot of this depends on if you believe in fate or not. Still, for the purposes of stepping foot smack in the middle of a new culture with extremely different values than your own, it might be worth remembering that not every “bad” action or value defines a person. Rather, it simply makes them human.

Do you believe there are certain necessary values? Share your thoughts below.

Discover Matador