Have you ever wondered what makes you do the things you do? What makes you leave the seat up on the toilet instead of put it down? Are you really just forgetful or is there something else there? What makes you hold the door for someone behind you rather than just moving yourself through? Are you rude or is there some other motivating factor? Can these values, or drivers, be changed? I believe the answers we will uncover here will help us understand ourselves better and as a result, understand others better.
There is a massive amount of research available on this topic of how values drive behaviors, all varying in focus and results. Based on that, let’s find some common ground: we are all different because we are all living unique lives, carrying out and responding to different situations or circumstances. Can we agree on that?
The situations above are just that: situational. In these situations we may see different values than we might apply our entire lives around. Those values we use to drive our overall lifestyle would be our absolute values. So we have two things here:
1. Situational Values (or ethics)-Consider this a “graded” value. We can see a “high” and a “low,” a “good” or a “bad” based on a situation.
2. Absolute Values (or ethics)-This is something we believe as absolute and we are molded by it. It governs us. Christianity is an example of an absolute value. Being a family first man is an absolute value. These are things that guide our behaviors and are applied on a consistent basis across all kinds of situations. Sometimes these absolute values don’t really come into play when you’re in a split second decision of whether or not you need to put that toilet seat down though.
So you see the difference of the two now. There are our absolute values that drive us and then there are those values we apply to get us through our day to day operations. Next question, and I know you’re thinking this: “Why do you keep talking about toilet seats?” Ha. Haha. To be honest, that’s how this whole idea of writing this came about. I was using the bathroom the other day and when I was finished doing my thing, something inside me questioned why I was thinking about whether to put the seat back down or not. I was actually stuck in this public bathroom stall for at least 1 whole minute, mind you a long time considering you don’t normally think about stuff like this while you pee, trying to decide what my next move would be. Should I put this seat down or not?! So this proves there are two ways I could go about this and depending on what I value more. This is a situational value, and here are my options:
1. I can put this seat down so the person that comes in behind me can use the toilet without being stuck in the same predicament I am now..This is Tradition. I know it’s universally accepted that I put the seat down in case who comes behind me is a lady, that makes it easier for her. OR..
2. I can keep my hands off that toilet seat because I don’t want to subject my fingertips to the bottoms that have previously occupied this bad boy. This is Health.
The decision: I didn’t touch that thing. Nope, not in a public restroom. I just won’t do it.
So what does this mean for me and what could it mean for you? For me, it means I value Health over Tradition. I possibly just learned something new about myself and it is one of those things I knew but didn’t know what to call it. Knowing what to call it helps to solidify what we know and then build on that. With this new knowledge, I can put it to the test to see if it holds true in other areas or situations in my life. If it does, I have learned something substantial about my personality and have a better understanding of what makes me act the way I do.
For you, it means I am not rude for leaving the seat up, I just value Health over Tradition. With this new knowledge about me, now you can drop that potentially negative view of me being rude and see that that wasn’t my intention at all. How would you treat me now?
For both of us, we can apply this way of thinking to more and more areas in our lives. In as many ways as we want: both in deep moral situations or in small, everyday situations.
What about other situations? Like what makes me hold the door open rather than just moving myself through? For me, I value Kindness to others over Making It Easy for me. You can see how this can keep going and going, revealing more about myself along the way, simply by being aware of my behavior. Think about other things like: Power (socioeconomic status, social life), Achievement, Self-Direction, Conformity, Helping Others, etc, and see which of those are most important to you. You can name things whatever you want. You aren’t picking pieces out of a predefined selection list and calling it your life. What you will find is a bigger piece of the puzzle of understanding yourself. A good value system will not contradict itself and will be applied in various situations.
And those absolute values? These may take some deeper thought as they will define so much about you. Phil Hodges who wrote the book Lead Like Jesus says you can only realistically adhere to 3-4 values, so stay within that. A good value system will help you get to the root of all your major internal problems by helping you see exactly where you are off your path. If your second thing isn’t working right, are you doing number 1 right? If 3 isn’t working, is number 2 being fulfilled? As you grow, you can adjust your values but unless you have a major lifestyle change, you likely won’t need to. They are the core of who you are and how you operate, but a teenager would have a different value system than a 40 year old (job changes, different relationship and family status, etc.) These will protect you when you come under pressure.
The first step: establish them. I have values set up to direct myself in order to protect the things that are most important to me:
1. Stay true to myself. Stay connected with the character of Jesus. This is number 1 not because I’m selfish but because my wife and kids need the version of me they love: the real me. It’s so easy to get caught up in achievements and socioeconomic status that we start to lose ourselves and what makes us us. This can lead to sadness, to depression, to anger, to broken relationships. I have to work at this sometimes.
2. Be a faithful, loving husband. If Tori and I are not connecting and something is just off, I can be sure to look at number 1 and see if if maybe I’m not communicating the right way. Maybe I’m not letting her in on a piece of me or what I’m going through. This is the balance of all my relationships. If this one is good, my others are good and vice versa. If you feel like the world is crumbling when you and your spouse aren’t getting along, you are right in feeling that weight because it is your most important relationship here. Period.
3. Be a present, guiding father. I absolutely love my two sons. In order to be the best dad I can be, I need my heart to be full of Jesus and I need to be fulfilled so I can share more of myself. I can show them more that way. I’m also at my best as dad when Tori and I are on the same page. You can see how in order for 3 to work, 2 has to be satisfied, and for 2 to be satisfied number 1 has to be as well. This is all connected. What happens when I’m pressured by my friends to stay for one more game or to do that third Saturday thing this month? I consult this value in my heart. I know it’s there and I can’t ignore it because I have established it.
4. Share with others. This is my productive outlet, which is absolutely necessary for me. It is my career, it is my church work, it’s this blog, my social life, etc. Some may have work higher up and that is perfectly fine. Make it your own. I cannot perform well at work or at church or anywhere else unless the other parts of my life are fulfilled. Many companies recognize this now as well and that is why the best companies promote and encourage work/life balance in order to maximize production. I’m one of the lucky ones that works for one. If I am not sharing something with someone regularly I do not feel fulfilled. It keeps me searching for information and wisdom, which keeps me full, all because I love to share.
So what about those moral questions like: can a Christian have a few beers? Should I have a solo lunch with the girl from work? Should I tell my dad what I really did with his jigsaw (ask me later)? Do I really need that pain pill today? My value system tells me exactly what to do in every single one of these. I just have to be disciplined enough to follow it. Second step: follow it.
This goes on in every place we go, in every situation we are in. We interact with people at different stages of growth and in different situations all day long, every single day. I believe people who act out in violence and rebellion and recklessness are just looking for something like this. They either don’t have any values or they don’t have good ones. If we don’t have something good in the driver’s seat of our lives, it’s like buying your dream car and just throwing a brick on the pedal and hopping out. There is so much beauty and potential inside of you. There is no one else in the whole world like you. You can be in control by just finding what is important to you and prioritizing it.
How can you see yourself written out like this? Would you like what you see? How will you treat people if they have a different priority in values than you do? Please go talk to your parents about this. Talk to your kids, your siblings, your spouses, your friends. We can be different but still good. Find your good, set it up in your mind, and be driven by what is truly inside you.