What Are Core Values?

Let’s kick things off by explaining why core values are so important. I could say trust me I’m a Life Coach and they just are, but I’m sure you’re looking for a bit more than that, so let’s take a closer look.

Oh and by the way, I interchange values and core values, but they’re one and the same.

You may have noticed that in November of 2008 we had an election here in the United States.

Not only was it the first time an African American was bidding for the White House, but just as importantly in a great many respects was the fact it was the first general election in the age of Facebook and Twitter.

This isn’t the time or the place to explain how Obama, or more accurately Obamas campaign managers, kicked McCains ass from here to somewhere a very, very long way away……and then all the way back again by clinically utilizing social networking, but needless to say they did, and it probably won them the election.

What was even more fascinating, at least from a Life Coaching and people watching perspective, was how thousands of people that had gotten to know (and often like) each other through social networking over the previous months suddenly interacted with one another.

Now it has to be said that I’m an open book. I admit to being a bit of a liberal.

I like the idea of free medical care, abhor war and I even want to see homeless people housed. And shock horror, I don’t really care if that means I pay an extra cent on the dollar in tax.

If you’re a regular here there’s a fair chance, even if you don’t necessarily agree with me you’re not particularly horrified, and you certainly wont be surprised. If you are surprised you may want to take a class in reading between, behind and even on the lines.

What took place in the lead up to the election, was nothing short of social networking carnage.

People that had previously been getting on famously were all of a sudden declaring each other idiots, nazis, commies, morons and in my case, I was told in one rather amusing e-mail, I was a Queen-loving Limey bastard that should fuck off back from whence I came.

Nice eh?

The reality is nothing had changed in the online relationships. Except that is, one crucial thing. Peoples most important core values had risen to the surface for all the world to see.

When you see the core values of an individual you are effectively viewing their identity.

Core values are the things that people will and sometimes do, die for. So bearing that in mind, even though the events were somewhat sad they were still highly predictable.

I have posted on topics as diffuse as God, the Law of Attraction and Patriotism and they always generate more comments than if I talk about Life Coaching in general, beliefs or some vague self-development topic.

The reason being is few people have values that are heavily invested in those topics. You may well have an opinion on Life Coaching (or you may not), but I doubt it will be higher up your list of priorities than education, religion, health care or war.

What Exactly Is A Value?

The lazy bloggers friend, Wikipedia defines a value system thus:

“A value system is a set of consistent ethic values (more specifically the personal and cultural values) and measures used for the purpose of ethical or ideological integrity.”

I can’t say I disagree with any of that, but then again I’m not sure what it really tells us because we are the ones left to define what is ethical and what demonstrates integrity. They’re subjective terms and mean different things to different people based on the values and beliefs they hold.

Confusing stuff, eh?

Have you ever been watching a traditional TV when an advert came on extolling the virtues of either a Blue Ray movie or a swanky new super cool ultra flat TV that costs more than your first house?

It’s a frustrating experience because it doesn’t matter what they do or tell you, you’re still looking at a low-def picture and can’t see what they’re trying to demonstrate.

The same goes for values.

When we look at a situation and decide whether it is right or wrong, good or bad, we do so through the filter of the beliefs and values we already hold.

A couple of years ago I was questioned by a friend after I declared there are no right or wrong values, just values that are right or wrong for the individual

Surely, she argued (and not all unreasonably), things like murder are always wrong.

To begin with, murder isn’t really a value because the value would be what the person was looking to achieve through committing the act of murder.

You have opinions on what you believe to be right or wrong and that’s fine, but understand they are based on your beliefs and values and not anything concrete or quantifiable.

They’re purely subjective.

As Shakespeare said, “There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so”

I don’t think murder is right and I also don’t think lots of others things are right such as stealing, harming others, homophobia or racism, but that’s only my opinion based on my values, it doesn’t necessarily make it so.

Caveat: I realize I’m stripping this down to the bare bones and being very literal. There have to be some societal values agreed upon even if it’s only tacitly, otherwise law and order would break down. 

Where Do Values Come From?

Your values are determined by outside forces over many years whether you like it or not.

In fact it’s not unreasonable to say they’re not even really your values, you’ve simply acquired them through exposure.

Value sets are influenced by countless things including your family (or even lack of family), your friends, television, politicians, Church leaders, cultural influences, books you have read, incidents (both positive and negative) you’ve seen or been involved in, the country you were born in, conversations you had and much more.

You can see the infinite amount of permutations and it’s easy to understand why in over 5 years I’ve never had two clients with the same top 3 values.

Your values tend not to shift too much when you get past your early twenties. We all have a tendency, as with beliefs, to look for information to cement the values we already posses and filter out information to the contrary.

That is the reason why so few Republicans would ever listen to Michael Moore with a completely open mind and why so few Democrats would read Ann Coulter without smirking.

Having said that, things can change radically under certain (and often traumatic) circumstances.

Suppose you’ve never had trust as a main value and then imagine the following scenario:

One day you come home early from work expecting the house to be empty with your partner at work.

On entering the house you see an empty Ambien bottle on the kitchen table and you think, “that’s weird, we don’t struggle to sleep”

You shrug it of, but as you walk toward the bathroom you spot a 5 iron leaning against your bedroom door, yet neither you nor your partner play golf.

As you are trying to work out what is going on you hear some very strange noises coming from the bedroom and your partner yelling,

“You da man, get in the hole, get in the hole!”

Do you think trust would suddenly find it’s way into your most important values?

I would say there is a better than even chance.

Fortunately though, extremes like the one above are not the norm and your values will remain fairly stable.

Another caveat: You will have dozens of values, but there will be a strict hierarchy that I will come to. That doesn’t mean values that are lower down your list aren’t important, just not quite as important as those nearer the top.

When Values  Collide

Have you ever argued with friends or family members about politics, religion, whether its right to give money to homeless people, the conflict in Iraq or the morality of Life Coaches that sometimes drop the F Bomb on their blogs?

That will be because you have conflicting values on those subjects.

That’s the reason you simply cannot ever agree on certain topics no matter how much somebody tries to persuade you. Of course many of us still carry on banging our head against the wall and trying to ram home our point, but all we do is polarize people.

That doesn’t in any way mean you can’t be in a really strong and stable relationship and/or friendship with somebody that has conflicting values. In fact it can often be just the opposite because different values encourage compromise and deeper understanding, if that is, you’re prepared to listen with an open-mind. And yes, open-mindedness is indeed a value.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s wise to know when agreement will never happen. I stopped talking politics with my dad years before he died because we were poles apart and every discussion ended up in us thinking the other was a complete imbecile.

It’s the ultimate in arrogance to believe we have a handle on what values are right and wrong and others need to understand that. Yet that is how every argument, fight, and war starts out.

“These are my values, they’re better than your values and if you cannot see that, then I am going to force them upon you for being such a dumbass.”

How many wars could be summed up with the above phrase? Probably all of them.

core valuesAre All Values Equal?

This is such a tricky question that I almost didn’t include it because I honestly don’t know if I know the answer. I think I do, but it’s really only ‘an’ answer as opposed to ‘the’ answer.

That may be the worlds biggest cop out or it may a fair and reasonable way of saying everything I’m about to say could be wrong.

I believe there are what can be loosely termed as meta-values (values that sit above other values) and may contain values such as Happiness, ‘Peace’ ‘Love’ and ‘Health’.

For example if I’m working with a client who declares that their most important value is ‘happiness’ that doesn’t really tell me a lot.

The reality is we all want to be happy so it doesn’t give me much insight into a clients make up or help me coach them.

Similarly a client wanting to be healthy doesn’t reveal much that I didn’t already know.

However, if a client has a number one core value of ‘kindness’ then that does tell me a lot about them because not every person views kindness as being so important.

It also allows me to remind them that values cut both ways and if we are to avoid internal value conflicts then it’s important not just to be kind too thers, but equally to ourselves too.

Hopefully you now have a clearer understanding of what values are and why they are so crucial in developing successful self sevelopment. I take a much more in-depth and closer look at in the book Aligning With Your Core Values