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Values are universal principles or ideals that we implicitly accept as guidelines for action. Values are a primary determinant of human accomplishment.
What is a value?
Values are psychological objects. Although we cannot see or touch them, they are every bit as real as any physical object. People may dedicate their entire lives or even give up their lives to pursue their values, as so many loyal patriots have done fighting for values of freedom, equality and human rights during the past two centuries.
We all have values that determine our decisions and guide our lives. Those who value their individuality take responsibility, are self-reliant and act with self-respect. Those who value truthfulness cannot bring themselves to tell a lie. Those who value family or friendship sacrifice their personal interests for the good of others. Those who value goodness cannot bring themselves to do something they know its wrong. We express values in our relations with other people when we are loyal, reliable, honest, generous, trusting, trustworthy, feel a sense of responsibility for family, friends, co-workers, our organization, community or country. On a more physical level, we may place great value on cleanliness, punctuality, orderliness, accuracy, quality and physical perfection in whatever we do.
Values and Accomplishment
The quality of the values we embrace and the intensity of our commitment to them determine the level of our accomplishment in life. In Pride & Prejudice, Wickham is a person of impeccable manners and charm who is completely lacking in values. He squandered the money he received from, tried to surreptitiously elope with Darcy's 16 year old sister in order to gain access to her fortune, borrowed from whomever he could with no intention of repaying, incurred gambling debts which he dishonored, lied to Elizabeth about Darcy and ran off with Lydia knowing full well it would ruin her reputation and make marriage impossible for her four sisters. All that he did because he could do it and get away with it and because he lacked values to restrain himself.
To Wickham values must have appeared as an unnecessary encumbrance that get in the way of his doing what he wants or what he views as expedient. In reality, values impose on the individual, the self-discipline necessary for high accomplishment. In the absence of values, Wickham could only earn for himself the reputation of an unreliable, mercenary spendthrift, liar and rogue. As the son of the elder Darcy's steward, Wickham had the good fortune to be raised at Pemberley in company with Darcy. He was given a good education and offered a comfortable income for life. His actions nullified all those advantages. In the end, he was fully exposed for what he is and forced to marry a brainless, formless wife whose sense of values was no more developed than his own.
Values convert energy into results
To understand the importance and power of values, it is necessary to understand more generally the process of accomplishment. Accomplishment is the process of converting human energy into results. The energy released by aspiration is given a direction which converts it into a Force. That force when channeled through effective organization is converted into power. When the power is expressed through skilled action it generates results. The magnitude and quality of the accomplishment depend on the energy, direction, organization and the skill applied. We refer to this process as Energy Conversion.
The role of values can be easily understood by analogy with the role of skills. Physical acts express physical energy. When we physically act, the results of the act depend on the level of our skills. A 7 feet tall man does not necessarily make a good basketball player. In addition to height, he requires the capacity to jump, agility, dexterity, precision, balance, quick hands and a host of other physical skills. Energy alone does not accomplish. Physical skills are the channels through which that energy is directed so that it produces results.
Values play a similar role at the psychological level. Accomplishment depends not only on physical energy. Even more it depends on the intensity of psychological energy which we are able to bring to our action. Interest, commitment, determination, passion, drive, enthusiasm are some of the ways in which we characterize the intensity of our psychological energy. As physical skills direct our physical energies to produce results, values direct our psychological energies for accomplishment. The scholar with a passion for accuracy will expend enormous energy in the search for facts and the effort to impartially verify them. Once he does so, his work will be relied upon by others and gain a reputation for its veracity. The gymnast or figure skater with a passion for perfection will continue to practice throughout her career to hone her skills, moved by the quest for the value of perfection - that score of perfect 10. The artist, musician, engineer, the chef, the flight attendant, the accountant are all guided by values in the execution of their work and the results they achieve are directly related to the level of values they attain. Values determine the intensity and flow of our psychological energies.
In Pride & Prejudice, Darcy appears to us as a man so who is so moved by his passion for Elizabeth that he feels compelled to seek her hand in marriage against his own better judgment and values. In reality, Darcy is a man with a formed character and values and it is these values which make Elizabeth so compellingly attractive that he is willing to abandon his arrogant pride, sense of self-importance and disgust at the vulgar behavior of Lydia, Wickham and Mrs. Bennet in order to win Elizabeth as his wife.
Darcy cherishes the values of self-respect, honor as a gentleman, fairness, goodness and unselfishness. Though his behavior may appear to belie these values, he feels a deep psychological commitment to uphold them. His contact with Elizabeth is disturbing because he immediately senses that she is one who does not regard him as worthy of respect. Bingley, Caroline, Mr. Lucas and so many others may look up to him as an epitome of perfection, but he readily perceives that Elizabeth sees only his faults. Once he begins to sense, there may be some degree of truth in her judgment of him, she becomes much more valuable in his eyes as someone who is not afraid to speak their mind or differ from the common view. When she rejects his first marriage proposal with such abuse, he vigorously defends himself but also has the objectivity and sincerity to admit that some of her accusations were true. The recollection of what I then said -- of my conduct, my manners, my expressions during the whole of it -- is now and has been many months, inexpressibly painful to me. Your reproof, so well applied, I shall never forget: 'Had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner... I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child, I was taught what was right; but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately, an only son (for many years an only child), I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing -- to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world, to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own.
Darcy is able to admit the truth about his behavior and work so assiduously to transform himself because he deeply values the ideals which his interactions with Elizabeth have made him aware his conduct lacks. It is not so much love of Elizabeth, but love of a good opinion of himself as a gentleman that compels him to undergo the tortuous penance of running after Lydia and Wickham in order to improve his own character. Winning Elizabeth, who he admires as an image of perfection, is a sign and symbol of his psychological transformation.
For those who doubt that values were really the motive force for Darcy's passion, try to imagine him in the situation where he had to lie or cheat or be mean in order to win Elizabeth's affection. He could never and would never do it. He loved her because she appeared as the epitome of the values he cherished. Her love and goodwill for Jane, even her righteous indignation over the alleged wrongs done to Wickham, her unwillingness to accept his extremely advantageous marriage proposal for mercenary gain -- were to Darcy all expression of her high values, for which he valued her so deeply.
Darcy's values were not merely the luxury or vanity of a wealthy man who need not concern himself with lesser things. He was willing to sacrifice his pride and pay off Wickham's debts in order to uphold those values. Before meeting Elizabeth, he had thought he was living a life of high values when in fact he was selfish, arrogant and offensive. After he saw himself through her eyes, he vowed to change and make those values real in his life. That was what made Elizabeth change her attitude to him and readily accept his second proposal. His values were the reason for his accomplishment. See Individuality:Darcy's transformation.
Values as psychological forms
Psychological forms direct our deeper psychological energies for higher accomplishment. Data, information, thoughts, ideas, ideals, opinions, beliefs, attitudes and values are various types of psychological forms.
- Data are mental facts derived from sense observation.
- Information is data organized by the physical mind into meaningful relationships.
- Thoughts are specific conclusions or observations drawn from the information.
- Ideas are generalized conceptions derived from specific thoughts.
- Opinions are thoughts which the mind endorses and the ego identifies as its own.
- Beliefs are ideas which the mind endorses and the mental ego identifies it as true for its life.
- Attitudes are opinions endorsed and energized by the vital ego.
- Values are idealized conceptions that are endorsed by the personality.
Thoughts are mental forms of energy which do not necessarily lead to action. Ideas carry the energy of mental understanding. Opinions carry the force of mental conviction. Attitudes carry the vital force of our emotional endorsement. Values carry the power of psychological commitment and determination. Values issue from a deeper or higher center of motivation in our personalities and therefore carry far greater power than our opinions and attitudes.
Origin of values
Anything that serves as a guideline for our actions can be labeled as a value. But here we utilize the term with reference to the universal principle that humanity has come to recognize as true and valid guidelines for human behavior and accomplishment. These principles are derived from two sources - from above and below, from life experience and spiritual inspiration.
From below, society acquires values through a long process of trial and error experimentation with various approaches to life. Over years and centuries, the collective comes to recognize that certain principles or guidelines are essential for the survival or vital for the growth of the individual and the community. They learn by experience to value these essential principles and pass them on to future generations as cultural guidelines for action. They discover that cleanliness is essential for heath. Punctuality and regularity of action are essential for success in agriculture. Honesty and truthfulness are essential in trade. Loyalty and patriotism are essential for the integrity and defense of the community. Responsibility, generosity and self-sacrifice are the bedrocks of the family.
From above, enlightened individuals directly experienced higher states of spiritual consciousness and perceived self-existent truths of the spiritual reality that manifested the universe. They discovered the essence of what we call God, Spirit or Divinity, expresses itself as fundamental spiritual values in the universe such as Freedom, Peace, Truth, Unity, Goodness, Harmony, Beauty, Love, Joy and Self-giving. They recognized that the more you strive to live by these values, the higher you rise in consciousness and the more the higher spiritual consciousness enters your being and expresses in your life. The wise perceived that the values derived from life experience are derivative truths and lower expressions of these same higher spiritual values and stepping stones on the ascending stair of evolution.
The precise form and importance given to each of these values differs according to the period and locale, but the essential truth which they represented remained valid. Cultures may have erred by emphasizing one value at the expense of others or insisting on only rigid, stylized expression of the values, but each cultural expression was based on essential, though partial truth - truths of accomplishment and truths of life. Earlier societies may have given predominate importance to values associated with harmony, conformity and obedience because they sought to preserve the society against the forces seeking to disrupt it. That was a necessary stage in the evolution of the human collective. Today, we place greater emphasis on values associated with individual freedom because the emergence of the mental and spiritual individual are the next stages in human evolution.
Values are spiritual skills
Values are universal ideals of conduct that are intrinsically accepted as self-evident truths of life, accomplishment, human relationship and spiritual progress. Values tap the deepest source of energy in our personality and channel it into action. Therefore, adherence to high values calls forth the greatest intensity of action and makes possible the highest levels of human accomplishment - materially, socially, psychologically and spiritually.
In Count de Bragalonne, Alexander Dumas depicts how Atho's commitment to high values at no thought for his own life and interests created conditions for the restoration of the Charles II who was living in exile. When Charles exhibited equally high values in dealing with his erstwhile enemy, General Monk, his restoration was assured. See European gentleman. In the film King Arthur, we see how one man who was deeply committed to the values of freedom and equality became the natural focal point and leader of all the diverse groups striving to ride England of the tyranny of Rome and invading Saxon hoards. Arthur's values made him England's first king and the founder of a nation. Every tale of high accomplishment in history, biography and fiction is built on foundation of values.