In essence, values are all about being the person you want to be.
Watching Andy Murray beat Kevin Anderson at the 2015 Miami Open, thus chalking up his 500th career win, led me to thinking that achievement and strength must be two values that Andy holds dear. Our values are principles that define who we are and how we act; it stands to reason that to succeed at the top levels in sport you would need to attach importance to building strength and aiming high.
J.K. Rowling has generously donated to charity and has also been willing to pay her fair share of tax. We can surmise from her actions that Ms Rowling, President of the single-parent family charity, Gingerbread, and an advocate for social equity, values ethics alongside charity. As a writer, it could be assumed that creativity is another of Jo Rowling’s values.
After winning the Queens Club tennis tournament in 2013, Andy Murray donated his prize money to the Royal Marsden Hospital where Ross Hutchins, his best friend, was receiving cancer treatment; thus Andy would also appear to value charity. Jo Rowling has spoken about her experience as a single-parent dependent on welfare benefits; both Andy and Jo can therefore be seen to choose to align themselves with values influenced by incidents from their lives, as well as holding values that are intrinsic to themselves.
We don’t have to look too far to find examples of people who could be said to demonstrate questionable values. What, I wonder, does Fred Goodwin, the disgraced ex-banker accused of being instrumental in the financial crash of 2008/09, esteem? Ditto Katie Hopkins, presenting herself as the archetypal pantomime villain; her sole reason for being seems to be to cause offence and inflict her mean-spirited opinions on everyone. Outwardly, these two people live well-to-do lives; scratch the surface, however, and I’m not convinced many of us would envy what we find there.
Values are part of our essence, reflecting who we are and what we stand for. If you are unhappy and/or unmotivated then it is possible you operate from a value system that you either:
a) Adopted from those who influenced your early years.
b) Abide by in order to comply with society/culture etc.
Parents, with the best of intentions, often try to inculcate their offspring with their values. My dad, who had a working-class upbringing in the 1930s/40s and wasn’t afforded the educational opportunities available in later decades, valued education and learning. He tried to impose his values on me before I was ready to embrace them; it was only as I grew older that I came to cherish these values for myself. And as much as I would love my son to appreciate learning as I now do, I leave it to him to make his own choices.
The media can implant values in us that aren’t congruent with who we want to be. Advertisements seem to me to be an example of this; for instance, innumerable commercials promoting cosmetics suggest that youth and beauty are highly prized. For me, there’s a huge difference between remaining young-at-heart and clinging on to a youthful appearance at all cost. I can’t say that I relish the thought of acquiring (more!) wrinkles, but there’s no point in resisting a natural process that, ultimately, none of us can escape, no matter how much money we spend on the latest ‘anti-aging’ product.
It is essential to clarify your own values if you want to live a meaningful life. One way to establish this is to ask:
What is really important to me?
My answer includes fairness, justice and equality; it’s what motivates me to help others get the best out of themselves. These values also drive me to write the memoir that will go some way to redressing the balance regarding injustices I was subjected to in the past.
It occurs to me that the stories we live can help us to identify our values. The predominant story of the past twelve years of my life has emphasised how much I value freedom, and not just on a physical level. Yes, I had to actually escape from an abusive relationship; however I have also worked hard to free myself from the emotional and mental bonds that contributed to, and followed on from, my physical captivity. My reward for carrying out this work is inner peace and contentment which, in my book, is invaluable.
Knowing what your values are can also transform mundane daily activities. For example, I’ve heard people complain that motherhood can be a thankless undertaking. Not just because of my experiences, motherhood ranks high on my list of values. However, the repetitive tasks associated with being a parent can become tedious – until you view them from the perspective of loving and caring for your child. This was brought home to me once when I was grudgingly ironing my son’s school trousers; an old friend’s seventeen-year old daughter had recently died in a car accident and I realised that my friend would give anything to be performing this, or any, humdrum task for her daughter.
Who do you want to be, and be known as?
Think about times when you’ve felt happy, proud or fulfilled: can you work out what your top ten values might be based on what was happening at these times? We can also deduce our values from the mistakes that we make.
If you can define your values and apply them to who you are and what you do, you will essentially be doing what matters most to you. In this way, you will create a meaningful story for yourself, and you can’t put a price on that.