I Believe

If someone asked you to name your most important values, what would they be? Think quickly now, respond by instinct, because the more you think about it, the more complicated it gets, or so I found at least. My blog friend and wonderful novelist, Lilian Nattel, wrote about a recent social experiment, in which female students in a university physics class were asked to write for fifteen minutes about their values, anything that really mattered to them. Having done this, the students then performed much better in their tests, closing the gender gap in a traditionally male-dominated subject. I found this to be very intriguing, particularly in the light of my current work. Affirming our personal values turns out to be a grounding exercise, I suspect, something that clears away the mists of confusion that arise when we are trying, with whatever good intentions, to bend ourselves out of shape in order to fit some fantasy of other people’s desires. Lilian and I both decided we’d write about our own values, and see what transpired.

The first thing I found was that it was all too easy; values tumbled out of me and I had a hard time keeping up with them for long enough to figure out why they mattered. I had to laugh at the superabundance of virtuous material I ended up with; it may well be that we are supposed to have left grand narratives behind, but in my personal universe, it turns out that perfecting ourselves, making the very best of what we have, is absolutely central to my life philosophy. I have all kinds of standards for myself (and, on the quiet, for others), but I also noticed that in recent years my methods and strategies have changed. It used to all be about striving and ambition, and now it’s about letting things unfold and attentiveness to what’s immediately around. I can promise you that this is a big improvement on the striving.

In work

I value creativity, thoughtfulness, quiet contemplation. I value practice and persistence, tenacity, resilience, and patience (although I don’t have much of it).

I think it’s better to do less, but to produce quality, better to be proud of what you have done, than proud of your ability to get it done. And whilst I think work is where we can often find our most uncomplicated pleasures and the greatest sense of self-worth, I also think it’s the place where we most need perspective. No one’s bleeding. No one’s indispensable. There will always be work that needs doing, and a tomorrow to try again.

In love

I value loyalty, and being given the benefit of the doubt. I value being looked out for, far more than I value being looked after. It matters to me to have someone see it all from my side, not least because I realize how very difficult this is to do without one’s own responses and preoccupations interfering. It’s an act of genuine love to embrace the other person’s perspective, and a wholly necessary one. I believe that people are fundamentally good, but that all kinds of trouble begins when they are not seen and valued exactly for themselves, not for what they could be, not for what they achieve, but for who they are.

And so I value sympathy, compassion, kindness, understanding. The greatest gift is just to be there, attentive, for the other person; love is presence.

In life

I value reason over passion. Passion is easy, it’s just letting go. Far harder to exert reason and restraint and self-control. I value common sense, and being sensible.

I value simplicity, and the beauty in the ordinary and the everyday.

I value freedom, free will, spaciousness. Now I have wide margins to my day, I know how hard it would be to live without them.

I value humour, insight, honesty, openness. We cannot prevent our true selves from finding ways to communicate – no matter how we attempt to hide or dissimulate, the real feelings will seep out, in other forms, in other places. Feelings of anger or distress that we don’t think may be expressed only piggyback onto feelings of irritation and sadness that we feel are justified, making them excessive, disproportionate, often confusing and sometimes hurtful to others. So I think it’s essential to find a way to give voice to one’s inner violence, to treat it with acceptance, wry humour and some respect, before it comes out in ways over which we have no control.

And here endeth the sermon from Mount Litlove. This is a good exercise, a kind of spiritual detox. I recommend it in the bleak midwinter, as a way of seeing the basic landscape of the soul, its roots and branches and rocky contours.

19 thoughts on “I Believe

  1. I’d rather have your Ten Commandments than Moses’ any day. Much easier to carry around and put into practice.🙂

    So I think it’s essential to find a way to give voice to one’s inner violence,

    Absolutely. This is something I’ve been working with a lot lately — the idea that great big ugly awful feeling states have no power unless they are acted on, and if they’re not felt and acknowledged, they will be acted on in ways we don’t expect.

  2. Litlove, this was wonderful to read and inspiring. I can relate to so much of it. All along I was saying “yes!” and “yes!” and admiring how clearly and decisively you expressed it. Especially: unfolding and attentiveness (which is challenging when all the world it seems rewards and affirms striving); the importance and simplicity of work and its relative unimportance, too; love as presence; acceptance, humour and respect for violent feelings. And all the rest.

    I’ll be posting mine tomorrow.

  3. LL- So much here, so many “you’re right!” as I read and embrace. Especially perhaps the “being looked out for rather than looked after.” sigh. How easy it would be to say you nailed it, every which way and so I will “ditto” all that comes from Mount Litlove (which i loved and it made me LOL), but I realize, in truth, this is a worthy exercise and one which I should face and give it a sincere whirl.

    But really, this is done so clearly and so shortly. (And that’s my fear, that I’ll write pages and pages and it will be a swirl of nilth, but I’ll try!)

    Thanks for the clarity. AND the inspiration.

  4. Pingback: values and performance | Tailfeather

  5. Pingback: *Monday Experiment: Values 1 « A Novelist's Mind: Lilian Nattel Online

  6. Wow. What an interesting exercise. You’re very brave to do it online. I was visiting Bob’s aunt in her nursing home recently and saw that the home had a poster of its “core values,” which reminded me that announcing “core values” was a very “in” thing for companies to do about ten years ago (and I guess that’s now trickling down into places like nursing homes). Back then, someone at the parent company of the company where I worked paid a consultant a lot of money to come up with the company’s “core values” and to design posters and even little wallet-sized cards to give to all the employees. I realized then, as I do now, that not only were those core values as laughable as my colleagues and I all found them, but also that they didn’t resemble my own values at all. And that thought is enough to make me wonder why I am still working in corporate America whose values are so different from my own.

  7. I’m in awe of the way you’ve so logically and coherently expressed these fundamental feelings. I’m particularly interested in the way you discussed how your “methods” had changed from “striving” to “attentiveness and letting things unfold.” That represents a profound conversion and one that’s bound to impact every other core value. As I think about my own life, I realize I’ve always been one to “let things unfold,” and sometimes perhaps I should have striven more. Or maybe it’s in the attentiveness that I’ve been lacking…

    Good grief, now my mind is in a whirl! What I really need to do is sit down and write it all out🙂

  8. I began reading this post and then stopped and quickly wrote down the twelve values that came immediately to mind. (And then, of course, I went back to your post.) Many of ours are the same or similar. Now, if only I could live by them all the time. That’s the hard part.

  9. David – well, I love that, thank you! And you put it so well about those big, ugly feelings. My suspicion is that it’s the repression itself that makes them big and ugly – in the daylight they may just be ordinary old feelings. Not, of course, that getting them into the daylight is easy to do.

    Jenny – love self-awareness myself, too. Tricky to get into all one’s blind spots, but definitely worth any trouble involved to try.

    Lilian- yay that’s lovely, thank you! Well I have you to thank for the concept. It was a great exercise to do. And I loved yours, and loved also the thought that you will do several posts on this theme. I can’t wait to see what else you have to say!

    Oh – I am sure you would do it beautifully, if you decided to. And I thought exactly the same thing at first – that I would write pages. But it turned out not to be so very much in the end.🙂

    Dorothy – I don’t know how other people feel, but I find it very easy to lose my sense of myself. I enjoyed writing this out – it does make you feel sort of strong and bold afterwards!

    Emily – ah, well, there’s something particularly disturbing about lovely things, like values, or beliefs, or fantasies, when they are turned into commercial products. If they aren’t completely authentic then they feel like trickery. It’s hard to avoid the spread of the corporate world, though, and alas, foolish things like earning a living do get in the way of principles sometimes!🙂

    Rachel – oh do give it a go if you feel like it. I’ll bet you could write them out just right.

    Becca – thank you for that lovely comment. I think it must be lovely to be naturally able to let things unfold and not have to struggle to remember to let go all the time as I have to! And I’ll bet you did do some striving on the side, perhaps in relation to your child? (It’s children who lead us into all kinds of unexpected areas.) But I’d love to see what your thoughts on this if you feel like writing them out.

    Stefanie – aww hugs to you! Thank you!

    Grad – ain’t that the truth! But I feel better for writing them down – I can at least check up on myself now.🙂

  10. Wow, I really appreciated this post – perhaps right now when I feel I’ve been floundering around in a bit of wilderness. And since L and I are also looking at wedding readings, I was thinking perhaps I should just read out part of this post! The part about love being presence for example. And the part about finding a voice for our inner violence is so true (although not I guess at a wedding). Thank for you this. I will definitely do this exercise when I back home again.

  11. I could never articulate myself so well as you when talking about values, but I agree with you on so many of them. I especially like the idea of quality over quantity–I often forget that and worry about how much I can accomplish. You sound so grounded–it’s obvious you’ve thought a lot about this and put it to work in your own life.

  12. What a beautiful post, LL. Truly. I agree with all of it. Didn’t know that was possible to do with another person. My only difference, and it isn’t really one, is in reason over passion. I think there is room for passion and reason, when one becomes passionate about that which they have reasoned out before hand and so long as they don’t sacrifice those reasoned principles for heat of the moment satisfaction. The pairing can be formidable, too often one acts as the sacrificial lamb to the other.

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and something so very personal. I feel heartened in spirit reading your words.

  13. Pete – can I tell you how immensely honored I feel that you would even consider reading this at your wedding? That being said, don’t, find something beautiful and well-known and memorable (and then tell us all about it). I’d love to read your version of this post, but mostly because it would mean you were home safe and sound.

    Danielle – it’s certainly something I’ve thought a lot about (I didn’t realise how much until I wrote the post!) but that’s what comes from being ill a lot and spending too much time thinking. And probably that accounts for my having of necessity to value quality over quantity, too! But thank you so much for your very lovely comment. I wish I were grounded – I’m doing my best to get there.🙂

    Kimberly – what’s so lovely about blogging is the chance it gives a person to find really like-minded souls. I’m delighted that you find your own world view reflected here, that’s wonderful, and I’m completely convinced by your argument for passion. I’ll try to let a little more slip in.🙂

  14. What an enlightening exercise. I can imagine that when you remind yourself of what is really important it is very grounding. I’m going to do this exercise in my personal journal. If I wrote as good as you do I might share it on my blog!

  15. I don’t believe you intended it, but you’ve certainly set a challenge here. Like so many others, I found myself nodding hearty agreement to nearly everything you wrote: being looked out for; the need for space; reason (though a little passion is nice too). I should try this; I WILL try this.
    Thank you. Rather than a Sermon from the Mount, you have just given all of us the precise reasons we adore you, read you, and wish all things good for you.

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