‘Values’ is such a buzzword right now. Everyone is talking about it – companies, schools, individuals – and it has become a way for people to explain their priorities and why they make particular choices.
Values are what we consider important in life. ‘My values are honesty and truth-telling’, ‘My values are environmentally centred’, ‘I couldn’t work there – it would go against my values.’ I see the attraction of values: they give a set of parameters, a line in the sand. They make it easy to justify what we think and feel and can be used to create connection – ‘our values align’.
However, values just as easily create disconnection. Employees leave jobs, couples break up, friends fall out because of them, and this perhaps is where I wonder if they sometimes get in the way? They are so very personal, and their subjectivity makes them almost impossible to argue against, reason with, or define. I doubt that many people could completely agree on what a value represents.
So you can have your values, and they can sit quietly in the back of your heart, or mind, or brain, or wherever they are located, and you can pull them out when needed and no one can really question them because they are so … nebulous. And that means that unless you are a really diligent, motivated, conscientious person, your values may not add up too much in your day-to-day life.
This is why I’m advocating a change of vernacular. I think we need to start thinking about virtues as well as values.
Virtues, I hear you say. That’s a bit … well … old school, isn’t it? It most definitely is – but what I like about virtues is that they are socially agreed upon, codified into how we work as groups rather than individuals, embodied in and evidenced by actions – definable, measurable, effective, results-oriented.
I’m thinking about virtues like courage and compassion. Hopefulness and determination. Energy and wisdom. Honesty and generosity. Altruism and empathy. Good will toward others.
You know what those words mean. There is no ambiguity. They are delectable, delightful traits that I’m sure you can detect in the people you love and admire most. They are worth cultivating, worth investing in. They make others feel safe and make the social wheels turn. They do not define an individual, but rather define a person’s part in the greater good.
Using a virtues framework supports us as we look at ourselves and our work (human processes) within a broader social context. After all, we exist within the social – families, communities, and workplaces – and are interdependent on others in those systems and spaces. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if this article resonates with you based on your own situation.