How do YOU Value?
We live in a world where quantity and quality are
horribly confused. Value is measured in terms of 'amount', and people
are constantly telling us more is better. Lists are issued comparing
the relative wealth of people who are all so rich that comparisons are
meaningless. Is a personal fortune of $100 billion really more
satisfying then one of $50 billion? It's assumed that Picasso is the
greatest artist of the 20th century because his paintings fetch
the highest prices. Our satisfactions are measured in terms of how
often and how much. Yet it is impossible to give a numerical value to
those aspects of our life experience we obviously 'value' above all i.e.
that of peace, love, truth and happiness. In that part of the
'universe' more is not better, deeper quality is better.
The word 'value' tends to be frequently misused so that
its meaning is obscured and often lost. Hence the emergence of
'values confusion' at an individual level, 'values clashes' in a collective
context, and the 'crisis of values' now frequently perceived within society
itself. One cause and also a consequence of this loss of meaning is
when the idea of 'value' and 'values' are mixed with concepts such as need,
desire, attachment and belief.
A need only arises within us when we feel something is
missing. At the most mundane level, the material level, we may say we
need a car if we don't have transport to get form A to B on a daily
basis. But we may not be fully honest with ourselves if there are
other methods to make the journey and, in truth, our need is simply a
desire in disguise. Need is not desire, but we may even phrase our
need or desire for the car by saying "I would value a car so that I
can use it to travel". In truth it would be a genuine need if
there were no other way. It would be a desire if there was the belief
that the car would add something to our self-image, or make us happy in
some way. The car would be of value if it serves the utilitarian
function of getting us from A to B. Yes it's true that when selling
the car we would 'evaluate' its worth in quantitative terms and then give
it a 'monetary value'. And so we have two kinds of value. One
is qualitative according to personal convenience and comfort of travel, and
the other is quantitative in monetary terms. But even then the
'quantitative' will have a large component of the 'qualitative' dimension
prior to final evaluation in terms of style and comfort.
In real life material objects like cars become more than
just utilitarian items and they are sold to us not only as a function but
just as much as a fashion. It's when we buy the car for various
reasons (size, comfort, convenience, economy, style, prestige etc) that the
lines between value, need, desire and attachment are blurred. The car
seems to satisfy a need that is really a desire, which is to be seen in a shiny
new car, or to travel in elegant luxury. The car then becomes an
attachment that is 'valued' only for how expensive it is and for its looks,
and therefore how well it serves as an extension to ones self-image.
The car then becomes a form of dependency. What we don't tend to
notice is that one of the main reasons why we are vague about our values is
that we don't realise that as soon as there is the presence of attachment
and dependency within our consciousness it makes it impossible to 'value'
something or someone.
Why? A simple definition of value is 'to care'.
What you 'value' is what you 'care about', not to be confused with 'worry
about'. When we value a friendship we 'care about' and care for the
relationship, probably more deeply than some other relationships. To
extend 'care' for anything means the self has to be free of selfishness or
any of its emotional extensions like anger or fear. If someone
damages the car and we react with anger that is a selfish reaction that
extends anger to another person. It is not a sign that we care about
the car, or that we care about the person, it is not a sign that we value
the car, although it may seem so! It is a sign that we are taking it
personally and feeling hurt just because a piece of metal is damaged.
We are concerned only for our self, for our own feelings. We
don't value the car but we are attached to the car.
Similarly when we value another person we extend to
that person love as care. We care about them, and care is love in
action. But if we become jealous when they talk to someone else, or
if we become irritated by their behaviour, love is lost, care disappears,
and we no longer 'value' them as evidenced by the animosity, resentment or
anger we show towards them. In truth we probably never did 'value'
them i.e. truly care about them, but were more likely just attached to
them, needy of something from them, which is suddenly being denied.
But as you can see these lines between, value, attachment and dependency
are blurred to say the least.
Language can have a large part to play in our ability to
be clear about our values. When we 'pluralise' our 'values' we imply
that values can be quantified, therefore itemised and obtained. But
value is not a noun, it is a verb. Value is not something we acquire
it is something we do.
Value is something we 'ascribe' to an object or a
relationship, or to anything for that matter. That's obvious at a
material level. We 'ascribe' the value of two Euros to a kilo of
apples, or two thousand Euros to a car. But the process of 'valuing'
is not so easy to 'see and do' at the non-material level with those more
invisible possibilities like loyalty, respect, trust etc. In a world
where we are generally taught to focus and often fixate on the material we
tend to learn that our 'values' are objects, like cars and homes, and not
something we ascribe to them within our consciousness. Hence
the reason why we receive so little education on 'how to ascribe' value.
Seven Jars of Value
We both explore and reveal our personal values through
the choices we make. How do we respond if we are challenged to
prioritise between a number of different non material but obviously
valuable commodities? We may find some commodities have equal value,
and we cannot decide between them. Here is an interesting exercise to
test the clarity of your 'ascriptive ability'. Imagine a shelf with
seven jars on it. A genie is waiting nearby for you to give him one
of the jars, and you know that he may return again and again in the future,
taking one jar at a time until only one is left. Picture the jars
carefully. You will have to decide in which order you would be
prepared to let them go according to the value you ascribe to each.
In other words you have to prioritise the objects by the ascending value
that you ascribe to the contents of each jar,
The first jar is plain clay, caked in mud, but you can
see some archaic patterns where the surface is exposed; this contains
ancient wisdom about the precise 'workings of the spirit'.
The second is shaped like a beautiful soaring bird, and
contains positive thoughts.
The third is still gift wrapped, and contains the good
wishes we have of our friends.
The fourth is like a perfume bottle, and contains a
magical balm, which will soothe away all our worries.
The fifth is a spherical container, balanced on the
shoulders of a porcelain figure, and contains emotional support from your
The sixth is clear glass, etched with diamonds,
containing creative talents.
The seventh is shaped like a pair of cupped hands, and
contains blessings from your parents.
Choose which jar you would give
away immediately, and then decide in what order you will give them up in
future, should you ever have to do so.
As you make your choices notice how you obviously must
ascribe value to one, or to some, more or less than others. And as
you ascribe value notice what you are calling upon within your self to give
you the ability and capacity to ascribe a difference in value. It is
a combination of peace, love and truth. There must be inner peace to
be able to look, see and consider clearly within your self – which means
there needs to be the absence of the agitation of any desire. There
must be love to remain open and able to discern the quality of each of the
seven and to be able to 'ascribe' a deeper quality of 'caring' to one more
than another. This requires the absence of any attachment that would
close you, generate fear and bias your 'ascriptions'! And there must
be the presence of truth in the sense that you have an innate knowingness
and awareness that allows you to discern which one will contribute more to
the maintenance of harmony within yourself and with others. Which
means you need to be free from pre-programmed beliefs about all the jars
contents that may bias your sense of how accurately each 'commodity' is
aligned to what is true. Phew! Its challenging, this 'ascribing
of value' business!!
Isn't it interesting to note that in the process of
'ascribing value' we bring to bear what we often acknowledge as our deepest
values – peace, love and truth – sometimes referred to as our 'spiritual
values'. Suggesting that what we value most deeply we already have
and indeed already are! .
This is probably why virtue meets value at the deepest
level. They are ultimately one and the same. Not commodities
that are separate from us but our very nature from which we are able to
value everything else. If they were not present within us and therefore
not present as both the process and the background to valuing then we would
not be able to ascribe…value.
In truth it is the presence of love itself that gives us
the ability to ascribe value. And the presence of love is only
possible in a state of peace.
Question: What's the difference between a value and
Reflection: We say we value our freedom one minute but
don't realise we relinquish it a moment later by saying we 'hate' someone
or something. We don't notice that when we hate we become a slave to
the object of our hatred. In that moment our freedom is lost. We kill
what we value but don't realise that we do so. Can you think of
Action: Do the jars exercise above (on paper)
everyday this week and see how your answer varies and why.