|Sent on:||Friday, September 19, 2008 7:22 AM|
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.
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 closest friend.
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 valuing?
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 another example.
Action: Do the jars exercise above (on paper) everyday this week and see how your answer varies and why.