What do you believe in?
If you can connect a single value to a core belief, you may have found a core value.
Use five minutes or so of your time. Ask yourself this;
“What is the most important thing in the universe?”
Then ask yourself why that is so. Keep it as simple as possible.
If your own explanation makes you come up with something that seems even more important, keep going and ask yourself why again. Do this until your final answer basically is “Because I say so.”
Did you come up with anything in five minutes? If so, congratulations! You just discovered a core value.
Core values are plain and simple the things which we value and hold on to most. Some people claim to have several core values that are equally important to them, some might only have one.
Your values uphold you
If you have but one thing that you care more about than anything else in the world, this is a core value. This is the thing that lies at the center of who you are; the powerful passion in your heart. This is something that gives meaning and value to your life. The beliefs that follow in its wake will give you directives to help you orient yourself, in this vast and whirling world that we live in. Your core value is the foundation on which you stand.
Your core value(s) is the most important thing in the universe – at least for you. You believe in your core values and you want to believe in them.
I will give some examples of concepts people may hold on to as their core values:
- The scientific method
- Humility before God
(Obviously this requires theism. To certain theists, God is simply a fact and the value of God is present whether we exists or not, while humility before God is a human virtue and thus something to live by.)
- Universal life energy
(A notion about energy transcending the mundane plane. As with many abstract concepts, several interpretations exists.)
Identity, identity, identity
Core values vary from person to person. We hold on to different things. We have different beliefs. We have different goals. We make different choices. This is what actually separate and define us as individuals.
There is a a quite famous quote, originating from one of my my favorite books, Harry Potter and the chamber of Secrets, by J.K Rowling: “It is our choices, Harry, which show what we truly are, much more than our abilities.” – Albus Dumbledore
(Sidenote – Ontological food for thought: Our choices shape the future. In the end, what we choose depends on what we value- or is it our values that depend on what we choose?)
A core value is unique. A core value is a choice you make on every level. It is the choice that makes you responsible for who you are. This insight can be hard to acknowledge, but making choices is the only way you can forge your own life.
Do not worry. As long as you can owe up to your mistakes, you will be fine.
“All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.” – Quote from Antigone, by Sophocles
Power to shape yourself
Your ability to choose is what gives you power. Any other source of power can only be unlocked by a choice.
Over time things change, but core values do not change without changing who you are.
It is very important to be aware of what one believes and values. It can likewise be important to be able to separate a value from a belief. Usually, If you can connect a single value to a core belief, you have found a core value. But as I am sure that you have noticed, you can also believe one thing and still value something else than another person with the same belief.
Below I list some arbitrary examples in order to more clearly show the difference between core beliefs and core values.
|Core belief||Core value|
|Science will eventually explain everything||The scientific method|
|God is good||Faith|
|Science can NEVER explain everything||The scientific method (still useful)|
|Confidence solves everything||Confidence|
Freedom by choice
I think that the best thing we can do is to let our core values replace our core beliefs whenever possible.
Let go of limiting beliefs and let your heart guide you. Let the driving force of your core values move you forward. If we let out core values replace our core beliefs, if we start prioritizing some values over som beliefs, we allow ourselves more freedom and more meaning.
A core value can be almost anything, a relationship or an ideal, whereas a belief in itself is a neutral conviction. You see, beliefs are not very useful on their own. Learning the truth is not very useful if you never use that information. It is the possibility of application that is useful, not the limitations. And the possibilities are many.
Holding on to a core value doesn’t necessarily tell you exactly what to do in a certain situation, but it doesn’t limit you in the same way as a core belief does either. Striving for serenity, friendship or wealth doesn’t really tell right from wrong. Simply striving doesn’t give you access to a template for which methods work and which don´t either. Instead, we are free to approach our core values as we wish! The choices we then make, are truly our own.
You can and always should consider beliefs and use ideas; you just need to let them go when they no longer serve you. Letting go does not mean that you should stop believing something because it’s not beneficient, it means that you shouldn’t waste time to fret about beliefs when you are uncertain. Just follow your heart and take action instead.
Words of warning and words of encouragement
Be wary of all fanaticism, no matter what the subject is. There is a subtle difference between passion and fanaticism and this is the same difference as between beliefs and values.
If you can read this, you have already come far in life. There is no point in trusting blind faith. You can’t see where it takes you, so it could lead you anywhere. Well, anywhere is not where you want to be! I repeat: Consider in depth what you believe and why.
We all may feel that we are not strong enough. Some people think that they need to put their faith in a higher power, because they believe that they can never live a good and rich life on their own.
Here is what I have to say to that:
1) We are already stronger than we think.
2) You are not alone in this world! You are not solely responsible for who you are either. We are all formed by many things and we have shared responsibilities.
If you really wish that you could put your faith in something, but you haven´t found such a thing yet, I encourage you to put your faith in the fact that there are lots of people out there, trying to make the world a better place for all of us. You are not alone in the struggle and others have overcome obstacles like yours before. Have some faith in that!
I do not condemn strong beliefs or faith, because I actually recognize beliefs to be necessary, as explained in part 2. I do think that we should focus more on finding values to believe in, however.
The guardian and his shield
As we grow, our understanding for our core values increases.
Let´s say that 15 year old John is asking himself what he believes in:
– “What do I believe in?”
– I believe that family always comes first.
– Why do I believe that?
– Because family is the most important thing in a human’s life.
– Why do I believe that?
– Because family is the best thing you can hope for in life and a family should always help each other, no matter what.
– Why do I believe that?
– Because I do.
Analyzing this (fake) inner dialogue tells two things about John:
1) John believes that a family is the best thing ever.
2) John´s core value – at least one core value – is loyalty to his family.
Now let´s say that John reflects over this again, 5 years later! Remember, your core values are building blocks in the foundation of your life. Know them. If you cannot go deeper, go wider.
Ask everything that might matter. This introspection may not just expand your core values, it could also have you realize that you no longer hold on to the same values.
When your mind expands your values grow
John is introspecting again:
– Family always comes first.
– But what if someone doesn’t have a family?
– Then he should go find one.
– By looking for a suitable partner of course.
– How can he know he has found one?
– She must be loyal, like my fiance´.
– Loyal to whom?
– To me.
– Only you?
– No, to the family as well.
– What is family? Her parents? Future kids?
– Both. All relatives my fiancée spends time with and cares about a lot.
– Hm, but she doesn’t have many relatives, she mostly cares about her friends.
– They count too, if they are true friends.
– What about your friends?
– My friends are her friends.
– Maybe friends are family?
– Yes, maybe good friends are family.
John is starting to get complex in his reasoning. It is harder to make out his thought process, but one thing is clear: he is expanding his take on family. His idea of loyalty to one´s family is simultaneously expanding. Someday, John´s core values might include solidarity between humans in general.
Core values can also be abandoned. This rarely happens if the person has only one core value. Such a drastic event changes the person’s very identity and it changes the person´s life, as it reshapes every decision making process connected to that value. A personal crisis ensues. However, as is only natural, something else will take its place. If the person in question has matured enough, this will be a good thing.
What a good value is
Good core values are like stars, lighting up our ways and our lives. Good core values should meet certain conditions:
- You should feel an urge to defend them
- They should protect and comfort you in some way*
- You should be willing to share them with people you like
- They should anchor you to the world (your feet are firmly on the ground) if you try to use them for this purpose
Think of it as if you were a guardian knight and your shield was forged from your core values. (Your core values give you the raw material to forge a defence.) Now you are ready to defend yourself and you only serve something you deem worthy of your protection. This happens to be the same core values.
Ideally, you should be ready to defend your core values, wielding the shield against the forces of ignorance and hate. Ideally, it should also feel worth it.
A bad knight don´t use a shield. He acts on the premise that attack is the best defense. A poor knight uses a sword to fight anyone who disagrees with him. A truly noble knight doesn’t want to use a sword at all; at most, he bashes his opponent´s head with his shield. This is wise since the problem with stabbing swords into knights is that you never really know who you are stabbing before you see him without his armor. One´s armor can be made up by many things, such as attitude and beliefs, but they are not the same as the person wearing it.
When we commit to a value, it is our decision to do so, but after that point, our core values will guide us in turn. They will help us make our decisions.
Choose your core values and find comfort in them. Use them to strengthen your resolve when tested and use them to seek peace when needed. May they serve you well!
My core value is love. Full and true love is infinite, wonderful and remorselessly unconditional.