Especially in this midterm election year, the word “values” gets twisted to mean demonizing immigrants and non-whites, reducing a woman’s right to choose, or a very liberal interpretation of the Second Amendment. You hear a lot about “fake news” and other signs of demagoguery. It’s all very dispiriting. And can priests be trusted? Not if you live in Philly, they can’t! You also see rich pastors from megachurches selling their wares and scaring folks into giving until it hurts. No, Values of the Wise (VOW) is deeper, more authentic, less crammed down your throat. Living a life of value is a goal within your reach and VOW can offer inspiration and an intellectual justification for finding wisdom and meaning in life. Maybe happiness and fulfillment to some degree, too!
Wouldn’t it be intriguing and inspirational to take the best that humanity has to offer – the insights of Jesus, the wisdom of Confucius, the patience of Dr. King, the courage of Anne Frank, the discipline of Buddha (and throw in a little George Carlin to keep it honest, some Anna Quindlen to add sensibility, and some Bill Maher for some spice)?
I think so! That’s what Values of the Wise does. It cuts through the different views of God and the universe; it takes a little libertarianism from the right and some kindness from the left; it samples from various cultures around the world; it blends the rational and the visionary.
In VOW, everyone can find ideas that feel right to them, and, most will find perspectives that challenge or discomfit them. Find a source where you see this diversity, this passion, this beauty, and I bet you are describing Values of the Wise.
What Is “a Life of Value?”
We all have values. Are your values your own? Did you design and build them yourself, or were they just given to you? Do you have a value or belief that you have held onto since you were a four year old? Have you moved beyond a value that your parents unwittingly passed on to you, such as blind loyalty, greed, or bigotry? Are you just now learning more about dedication, real dedication, because of some event in your life, such as the illness of a loved one? How do we know which values are right for us?
We don’t have our marriages pre-arranged, we determine whom we like and whom would be a good fit for us, and whom we can make a lasting commitment to. We decide which car we like and can afford, and buy that one. Why would you contract out the designing and building of this structure that is your values?
Some values are a better fit for you than others, and some are more pro-social than others, and you are responsible for determining what values you want, and how to make them real.
Why “a Life of Value”?
You, like I know from experience, may be unfulfilled because you’re not living the values and leading the life that are truly yours: what I call living “a Life of Value.” Mother Theresa lived her values – Gandhi lived his values – and they may not have been saints, as the historical record seems to indicate, but at least they had passion! I mean, Gandhi’s only possessions were a walking stick, spectacles, his diaper, some sunless tanning cream, and a copy of Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” – and he seemed happy.
A Life of Value is living your own values and developing your unique virtues with passion and commitment. Meaning, joy and pride come from living a Life of Value. Building a life of value makes you free and responsible for your own fulfillment (or whatever). This is a somewhat radical concept at its fullest extension, at which your life will never be the same.
Characteristics of a Life of Value:
1) You know which values you value, which virtues you possess, and what makes you ethically/spiritually/emotionally/mentally unique. You know what you believe, why, and how.
You are aware of what the influences are on the values you possess at the current moment, and you make efforts to emphasize those of your choosing and de-emphasize that are really just instilled in you because of culture, genes, religious background, early family environment, etc.
2) You are making consistent progress seeking and cultivating within you the values that you consciously choose – preferably values that are not harmful to others – for example, passion and courage versus greed and vengefulness.
3) You are excited by your values. Every day you are proud or enthusiastic of the life you lead, the relationships you are in, the mark you’re leaving on the planet. You are motivated to live life, to become all you can, to make a positive difference, to come to know yourself. Simply put, the Life of Value is a) good for you and b) good for something besides you.
4) The world breathes a bit easier because you are here. You make some small, positive difference to those around you.
How can you live a Life of Value?
After reading the description of what a Life of Value is, assuming you agree that it is worth striving for, how do you make it happen? Do you leave notes around the house that say “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough?” Do you examine books and websites that can provide information/ inspiration/and connection with folks who are like-minded? How does one become attentive to the areas in their life where they can make a difference … the person you can help, or the organization you can join? How do we keep that flame inside us burning? Humans are looking for something, something solid, something rewarding. Something that our consumption-based, monotheistic society cannot fill.
The VOW contribution: Quotations, writings, evidence
Here is another angle re: how to live a Life of Value. Quotes represent ideas… more than let’s say, a research article – more like a poem. Speeches that move you, the bedtime stories you remember as a kid, wedding vows, biblical passages, the National Anthem – all these are just words, but they evoke emotion because of what they mean.
The human brain thinks in words. When we developed language, it made our values – such as justice and liberty – become more like concepts than just impulses and intuitions. This sounds silly I guess, but if you were to see my brain on a PET scan, you know, that displays brain activity using colors to represent different levels of activity, you’d see evidence of damage from watching too many reality television shows or playing on screens. I’m only half-kidding!
There are and have been times in life when my scan would appear fairly black and white, but these quotations – what I consider condensed wisdom– light up my brain like Donald Trump’s brain does when he is thinking about himself. I feel something when I think about values and quotations; I get a connection between my thinking brain and my emotional brain… and it spurs me on to laugh, to tear up, to act. I’m not alone in this. Just a few words, such as: “Give me liberty or give me death!” for many of us has the same effect as a naked body does for the sexual impulse. People have laid down their lives for concepts.
Just like a Christian who is in trouble may recite the prayer about God shepherding him or her through the valley of darkness, and Dorothy says “There’s no place like home,” the ideas that quotations communicate are rich with meaning. Quotations can be like the mirror of life.
Quotes illustrate values in the way that a blueprint illustrates a house. You come to know yourself better when you know what you believe, and why. You will be more successful and fulfilled if you follow your heart and use your brain.
Quotes touch our minds and our hearts at the same time. I know they certainly touched mine at a time when I really needed them. Like you, I felt the sting of isolation, the elation of victory, the thrill of lust, the wonders of love, and the frightening challenges that life entails. But words like poetry, art like music, physical fitness, talking with others, and getting really clear about my values helped me. Philosophy provided structure and consolation where religion, family, and this society did not.
“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them” ~ Tenzin Gyatso (The Fourteenth Dalai Lama)
“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere”~ Chinese proverb
“The unexamined life is not worth living” ~ Socrates
There are thousands of inspiring quotations that I think beautifully exemplify and clarify the values of the wise. When you read them, and absorb them, you too will discover a diverse, exciting, and empowering message – a message that will help you understand the power of values and help you put them into action in your life. The benefits include receiving guidance from great thinkers, personal empowerment, inspiration, and a virtual community of other like-minded people… some of whom are long-dead. I know that exploring, researching, and discussing values is highly fulfilling for me. My gathering more than 30,000 quotations relevant to values means that I’ve done half the work for you!
Here are some of the values of the wise:
Tolerance: “Don’t be so tolerant that you tolerate intolerance.”~ Bill Maher
Knowledge: “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.” ~ Margaret Fuller
Passion: “There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money either.”~ R. Graves
Respect: “Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.” ~ Howard W. Newton
Acceptance of the Absurd: “I’m astounded by people who want to ‘know”’the universe, when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown” ~ Woody Allen
Reading quotations evokes a need for synthesis within the mind (perhaps called self-realization/ self-differentiation/self-knowledge or self-awareness), and the more we know what we stand for, the more fulfilled we can be. In synthesizing different ideas with our self, we grow towards self-actualization. I think we all have within us the desire to progress, to grow. Discovering quotes that you identify with or that speak powerfully to you can help you find your path. I hope that my books, Building a Life of Value, Living a Life of Value, and Values & Ethics will help you to be more fulfilled by providing YOU with the building blocks for your interpretation of your life of value. They cost me thousands of dollars and thousands of hours to produce.
You can’t just be spoon-fed values: (racial inferiority is an example of a fundamental misunderstanding that children pick up from their parents, masked as a “value”). Such ideas will require a little stretching your muscles of thinking so that you have a choice between A and B; or more profoundly, A and the opposite of A. Doing so leads to an authenticity.
Do you know when you have authenticity? It’s like when you say “I KNOW THIS.” You have to be dispassionate in a way, at the time of deciding what you believe and why. Passion comes later when you’re instituting or living your values. But emotion can make things illusory and cloudy, and we need the type of clarity that Socrates brought to the people of ancient Greece, like when he asked: “What is truth?” “What is the good life?” and most famously: “Where can I get a gyro at this hour?”
Another way to keep your values out in front of you…
Imagine there is a movie of your life. In line with A Christmas Carol or Defending Your Life. What would you want it to say about you? What would you want people to identify in you, from viewing your life? Would you begin to live a different life?
My movie would show me being less outgoing, less helpful, more cynical, more materialistic, more rigid, and less modest than I would like to see. I probably would also think that my gut was a bit too big! This movie idea is not about vanity; this is what I call a radical perspective adjustment.
The Life of Value: It’s Not Just You Who Benefits – Those Around You Benefit and The World Benefits
The world is in the condition we find it in for some reason. We are spending ourselves into the poor house, engage in elective wars but don’t really remember that we do, and elected a president who greatly increases the possibility of a nuclear holocaust. America’s pretty ignorant and pretty unhealthy. The world is heating up and water is becoming scarce. It’s pretty dark when the president calls the media “the enemy of the people.”
We can become bigger than we are now. We can use our values to grow, and improve the world. Jan Phillips has this to say about the state of the world: “Sept 11th happened because we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. And we do not love ourselves.”
If we were following wise values in a true way – in other words, living a life of value, the world would be different.
It is interesting to think that maybe the way that I think and act has a practical effect on the world (in addition to my own feelings about myself). How could I shoot a bunch of kids at a school or sexually harass women who need a job from me if I were following my heart and using my head?
“The only thing that can save this world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That’s what poetry does” ~ Allen Ginsburg
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” ~ Margaret Mead
“Be the change you wish to see in the world” ~ Mohandas K. Gandhi
“Among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver” ~ Maya Angelou
You don’t have to be responsible for single-handedly changing the world. Living a life of enlightened self-interest is fine – the world is better off for it. I mean, many nights I’m in my Barca lounger with my dog on my lap and a beer in my hand watching Dexter. So I’m not saying I’m the Dalai Lama. I’m not even saying I’m Richard Gere.
But don’t let anyone tell you that the system is too broken to participate in, or that humanity is never going to change, or that it’s not possible to remove arsenic from the water, or that you have to be rich to enact change. If you know your values, the issues will be clarified, and the degree to which you want to act will be clear.
Let go of others’ values. Take only what your church, family, and society inculcated in you that are authentic, rational, and feel right. Spend the time it takes to find out what you value, what you cherish, and why. Use your values to 1) improve yourself and 2) to play for the side of right.
Socrates heralded the process of really inquiring about values, and he made a massive impact.
I value his method, I think it will be useful to you, and my colleagues and I have done a lot of work setting up quite a website. There are many ways VOW can help you with your goals.
A Life of Value is 1) discovering your own values, 2) developing your unique virtues 3) and living them with creativity, passion, and dedication.
Here is someone I like to follow.
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