All Values Are Personal
Values are things we act to gain or to keep. Our relationships with family and friends, our ability to think and produce values for others, a nice home or a lovely evening out – all of these and more are examples of values.
All values are personal. While two or more people can value the same thing, it won’t be of exactly the same significance to both of them. A value can be of great significance to one person and utterly worthless to another.
People generally understand that their values are related to each other. For example, a good job is a value in that it helps to provide the money necessary to sustain one’s life. A couple in a flourishing personal relationship usually finds life more pleasant and satisfying. Because all of a person’s values are related in some way, they can be said to form a value hierarchy.
To understand the significance of a given value to a person, we must connect with them. We must ask them to help us understand what the value mean to them, and how it relates to their other values. Gentle back and forth discussions are valuable in coming to understand another person’s values, their significance to them, and how they are related. When it’s done well, we come to a better understand of the person’s value hierarchy.
On the Personal Nature of Values
I made a short video on the idea that all values have a personal significance and that we cannot know the value of a value to another person unless and until we do the work to understand the significance of that value to them:
John the Intactivist
I am an intactivist – I actively oppose routine infant circumcision.
I wasn’t always an intactivist. For most of my adult life I thought routine male infant circumcision was “just a snip.” This is how most people think about circumcision – it’s just a snip. But in fact, it’s a surigical procedure that normally takes anywhere between ten and fifteen minutes, involves the amputation of a large amount of healthy and life-serving tissue, is excruciatingly painful for the child, leaves the child injured for life, and is a profound violation of the rights of the child. Hundreds of infants have died due to exsanguination, infection and other causes secondary to circumcision.
I understand that this is hard to believe. And unless your willing to invest a few days of your time to investigate this topic in depth, you’re simply not going to have an accurate understanding of the brutality of this procedure. You’re just not going to see the many far-reaching and lasting negative side effects of doing this to another person. At root, routine infant circumcision is a complete rejection of what it means to deal with other people by consent.
In other words, if you want to know – really know – why I’m an intactivist, if you want to know why I am proud to carry a sign with other men and women, there’s only one way: You’ll have to ask me about it. If you do, we’ll likely have a discussion, and that discussion might take maybe 15 or 30 minutes. It’s likely that we’ll both gain from the conversation, even if we never fully agree.
We cannot check every value a person holds. There are simply too many of them. So to some degree we will always be guessing.
If we are thoughtful and diligent, we will come to know what our closest friends and loved ones most value. The more thoughtful effort we invest in this work, the better we will come to understand the people we value. They will also come to understand that we are interested in knowing them. They will be more likely to feel visible and seen in the relationship. That’s a good thing!
It’s a good thing to think about this from time to time. When you find yourself in a disagreement with someone else, it’s often useful to check and see if you really understand the values that are threatened by the disagreement and their significance to the other person. It’s virtually certain that one or both of you are failing to understand the significance of what is threatened.
We validate our friends and loved ones by showing up and being present in their lives. One of the ways we do this is by demonstrating appropriate curiosity, patience and empathy in our interactions with them.
Practically, the only way to know the mind of another person is to interact with them. This means calm, gentle, benevolent discussions in a safe environment. This is the process of validation. Al Turtle, a well-known and successful psychotherapist, has some excellent resources on validation available on his website. I highly recommend Al’s work.