In this post, we explore what it means to value ourselves. What is value? Why should we value ourselves? And how do we go about valuing ourselves.
Think of values as those attributes that matter most to us. For instance, some of us might ‘value’ honesty. This means that in most situations we would like to behave in an honest manner. When we don’t, something pinches inside us. We don’t feel good. And this is true when other people are not honest with us. We feel really hurt, disappointed and maybe even angry. Always remember that values are deeply emotive. You cannot read values off an internet website (there are websites that help you find your values) and then assume them. This is not a serve-yourself canteen where values are espoused at one’s whims. No. Values are those characteristics and behavioral traits that strike an emotive chord in us. They are who we are.
Why should we know our values? Values are our unique emotive footprints. They make us – us. Knowing our values is a critical step in increasing our self-awareness. Knowing our values aids us immensely in taking important decisions in life – Whom should I marry? What kind of job should I take? Should I become a part of that friend’s group? Should I start that project? When we make decisions in line with our values, we feel peaceful. This, then as the Stoics exhort is a life of virtue – a life lived in alignment with our inner nature. This is the only way to peace, stability and contentment in life.
However, in today’s world, we are constantly being told we are no good. We are constantly being bombarded by advertisements for a better life. Social media tells us that others are having a better time. We constantly feel small. People who are not grounded in their values, have it hard. One day this and another day that. They are like vagabond clouds in the sky, not belonging to any land. And one day they dissipate by raining themselves down. The question is why are most people not aligned with their values? Simple – they do not know who they are or what their values are. They may say they value freedom, integrity, honesty and so on. But these are only meant as lip-service. They do not feel this as an emotional state of being.
Emotions and values go hand in hand. The only way to ascertain our values is by understanding the emotional impact of certain things, events and people on us. In order to understand what we stand for i.e. our values, we need to pay close attention to our emotional state of being. Unfortunately, today’s world is overly sentimental and yet lacking in emotional depth. Sentimentality is the display of emotions mainly to garner likes or pity. Being emotional is being attuned to how your feel in the mind and body – right now. As children if our fears, our small joys, our inconsequential excitements are not validated, we grow up not being able to value our feelings. After all, how can we value something, when our parents did not value it? If our emotions were dismissed, we carry this attitude towards our emotions throughout life. Anthony Storr in his brilliant book, Solitude puts it aptly:
[t]he capacity to be alone, first in the presence of the mother, and then in her absence, is also related to the individual’s capacity to get in touch with, and make manifest, his own true inner feelings. It is only when the child has experienced a contented, relaxed sense of being alone with, and then without, the mother, that he can be sure of being able to discover what he really needs or wants, irrespective of what others may expect or try to foist upon him.Storr, Anthony. Solitude (Flamingo) (p. 21). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Storr is making a very valuable point. He says, when we can be truly alone with our mothers, only then can we be truly alone with ourselves. I would suggest replacing the word ‘alone’ with ‘naked’. That is to say – emotionally naked. If our mothers (and/or fathers) accepted us for who we are, without imposing on us, their needs for a perfect child, then we feel accepted, loved. Our behaviours and emotions are accepted. We are alone, that is, comfortably ourselves with our parent. Only then can we have the courage to be comfortable alone with our feelings. Storr goes on to say this about being alone (i.e. accepted) and self-discovery.
The capacity to be alone thus becomes linked with self-discovery and self-realization; with becoming aware of one’s deepest needs, feelings, and impulses.Storr, Anthony. Solitude (Flamingo) (p. 21). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.
However, in today’s world, we are busy achieving things. We are busy saving the world. We are busy starting up companies. We are busy in our careers. But in all this, we neglect our deepest needs, our innermost fears. We are taught to ‘get on with it’. Such an attitude systematically reduces human beings to machines. We dehumanize ourselves. And such people cannot value beauty, truth, love, honestly, integrity, freedom and so on. Because they do not value themselves. This is the birth of crime against nature and crime against humanity.
In a lighter expression, this takes the form of people who don’t know themselves. They are constantly jumping from one job to another. One career to another. One relationship to another. They are like wandering sheep – one day here and another day somewhere else. This is often justified by them as being open to new experiences. However, new experiences and staying committed to your responsibilities are not mutually exclusive. You can be firm, stable and yet be open to exploring new things. Such people get bored easily and are prone to constant flux. Usually they always have a new set of friends every six months. Unfortunately, they are condemned to a life of perpetual dissatisfaction.
Many of us, may not have had the good fortune of a loving childhood. Many of us are not connected to who we are. In such cases, how do we go about discovering and standing on our values?
Step 1: Be honest with yourself: We do not know who we are. We do not know what values we stand for and stand on. Honesty is the starting point for all inner exploration. A lack of honesty will perpetuate ignorance of oneself. So, be courageous and let us look at ourselves straight in the eye.
Step 2: Become aware of the emotions: Did we react in a particular way when somebody said something? Did you get irritated when somebody was supposed to come and did not turn up? Such instances are extremely valuable to us. We learn about what evokes strong emotions in us. They are clues to what we value – what makes us emotional. Pay close attention to them. If you get caught up in the flow of the emotion, try to reflect when you are alone and calmer. Try to identify patterns.
Step 3: The Eulogy : Imagine you have to read your own eulogy on the day of your funeral. What would you like to say about yourself? What are the attributes that you wish to have? Work backwards. On your deathbed, what would you consider as a life well lived? We have an illusion that we will not die anytime soon. This illusion of eternity distracts us from understanding our true purpose. If we knew that we are going to die, then we would not waste time in meaningless things. The strange yet absolutely certain thing is – we all are going to die. Understanding the end point, brings immense clarity of purpose. Trivial things slowly begin to drop away.
Step 4: Reflect, Reflect, Reflect: Do not pack your schedule to the hilt. Allow ample time to play with ideas, to reflect to pause, to think. These apparently aimless wanderings have a purpose. They help us process all the information that we are exposed to. They help us rejuvenate and recharge. They help us separate the essential from the non-essential. This is the way we start coming close to our values.
So, in order to value ourselves, we need to discover our values. People who know their values i.e. what matters most to them, life a life aligned with their innermost yearnings. Such people value their inner selves and therefore themselves. Despite the worst external shocks, these people remain firm, grounded and peaceful. They know that their values cannot be taken away. Because such people value themselves, they become valuable in the world.