Personal values act like a compass, they give direction by indicating the way a person should go. I use ‘should’ not because I’m attempting moral authority, but because staying true to our values is necessary for wellbeing, like exercise or eating.
Values are about ideals, and our ideals define who we believe we are and what we hold to be important. We can’t always live up to them, but they tell us how we should be thinking and behaving.
But things are on the slide. We are losing touch with the shared social values that have kept communities together ever since people started to form them. On a personal level, although values shape both our identity and behaviour, most of us struggle if we are asked to list them in any meaningful way (by that I mean beyond the usual abstractions like ‘honesty, fairness, respect etc).
On top of that – or maybe because of it – we ignore our moral code, daily. For example, many people must work in jobs where they bend the ethical rules on behalf of our employers, otherwise how would unethical businesses prosper? Most of it is low-grade stuff (lying about a product by over-stating its effectiveness, or by making over-ambitious claims about our intentions as in “This is not a sales call”).
These may seem insignificant particularly when they’re socially sanctioned by the people around us, but they still gnaw away at our sense of self because – conciously or not – we are behaving in a way we know does not sit well with our values.
One of the benchmarks of personal fulfilment is to live congruently. ‘Congruence’ means that our ‘actual self’ – how we act on a daily basis – is in line with our ‘ideal self’ (who we aspire like to be). So respecting our personal values is more than a ‘nice to have’. Even if we don’t care about the moral decline in society, we should care about personal wellbeing.
It probably makes sense, and your happiness is at stake!