Music and Values

Those have pretty much been the theme of my week. I got a new microphone on Tuesday, so I’ve been recording more music, and I’ve been writing about values on both of my blogs, as well as attending an Engage KW session on them. Values, not my blogs. It can be hard to pick out what our values are, and there’s been a lot of discussion about what a value is, and how it’s different from a belief or a personality trait. I’ve been mulling this over, and I think I’ve got a tentative answer. Also, new music below. 

Here’s, something to listen to while you read. My first public track from my new microphone. There will be no further apologies for crappy webcam mic. I really loved the Last Unicorn as a kid, it always struck me in a powerful way, especially the music, but I’ve never been sure why.

Last Unicorn by Jim Tigwell

Anyway, values. Put simply, a value is a belief that you’ll go to the mat for. You value it for itself, and not as a means to something else. This means that if you have to choose between personal interests and one of your values, you pick the value. A good example of this is honesty. People who really value honesty aren’t just honest when it helps them out. They’re honest when it hurts them, and that’s why we admire them. They have the courage of their convictions. Not all values are heroic. I talked about this on TPK a few weeks ago. Some values are better than others, depending on how you evaluate them. This isn’t my space where I get into technical philosophical nuance though. Watch Concept Crucible for that in the coming weeks.

Another important point about values is that you can’t figure out someone’s values, even your own, by what you do. Everyone gets things wrong now and again, and sometimes they get it wrong a lot. Whether it’s a person who feels pressured to do a job despite their values, or a heroin addict whose dependency gets in the way of acting on their values, you can’t see what someone’s values are from their behaviour. You have to look at what they wish they would have done. If they have a regret over a choice, it could mean that it contradicts one of their values. It could just mean they made a bad decision, there are lots of ways to do that, after all. But in general, our values become clear in the things we would rather have done. Let me give you an example.

If you’ve ever talked with me about something serious, you know I usually apologize at some point for getting things backwards. Compassion and close relationships are really important to me. I care about people and their well-being. That’s a value. But I’m also a problem-solver. It’s a personality trait. The two conflict sometimes. When someone I care about comes to me with a problem, sometimes I ask about the problem before asking about the person, and I regret it almost immediately. I wish I’d focused on them, rather than shifting the discussion to their issue and if there’s anything I can do to resolve it. But to all appearances, my values are the other way around.

Everyone has an array of values, and they shift and change over time. After a lot of thinking, I’ve sort of sussed out my top five. In no particular order, they are:

  • Growth: Some of the lowest points in my life are the ones where I didn’t feel like I was growing. Not in wisdom, nor in relationships, nor in success. By any measure I feel like I was stagnating, and the memory of that is what keeps me pushing forward. 
  • Financial Freedom: I grew up poor, and I still see money as one of those things that limits choices, rather than creating them. It’s the boundary you work inside. But I know it doesn’t have to be that way. I had to think hard about this, but what matters about it isn’t wealth accumulation, but knowing I can buy lunch for someone without worrying about my budget.
  • Ethical Practice: This is a catch-all for valuing justice, compassion, and a lot of other things, but it belongs here. I got into philosophy because I needed to understand ethics in order to be a better person, and to make sure I was doing right by people.
  • Close Relationships: I’ve been really fortunate to meet so many people who, upon meeting them, I think “If I do right by this person, they’ll be my friend forever, and be a friend worth having.” Whether it’s friends, family, or lovers, these relationships are possibly the thing I value most.
  • Helping Others: I’ve needed a lot of help to get where I am today. Not just cheerleading from friends and pushes from professors, but second, and sometimes third chances. I understand that feeling when you need help, but are afraid to ask for it, and I don’t want anyone to have it. I’ve got big shoulders, and if I can take some of the weight off yours, I’ll do it.

I don’t always do these things. I know that. But I want to. I try to. When I fall short, I regret it. That’s how I know they’re the things that are really important to me. They work together, as you can see. Helping others builds close relationships, and is tied up in ethical practice. Good friends make you better, and help you grow. Financial freedom, that one I’m not sure how it fits in, but it’s there. So those are my big 5 values. Leave a comment and tell me about yours, how you know that’s them, or just about whether or not you like the song. See you next week for my year in review!

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