Monday, July 11, 2011

Values in Conflict

The beauty of value-systems is that there are so many of them. So many in fact that each of us subscribes to at least a few (if not many) that are in conflict with one another. We don't always recognize these conflicts and when we do we're often slow to acknowledge them, but when we look honestly and diligently, the conflicts emerge.

The first challenge lies in the way we adopt value systems. There are the values we espouse openly, the values that we keep to ourselves, and the values that we act upon, but fail to recognize as values. Any of these values (espoused, hidden or unseen) can guide our actions. Some do consistently. Some do from time to time.

Knowing what your core values are and understanding the core values of others is paramount to working together over the long haul. Even people who seem completely compatible can find themselves in conflict from time to time, and when you dig into it, it always comes down to a conflict in values. In fact, conflict between people who normally seem completely compatible can be the most challenging to reconcile simply because it never occurs to either party that source of the conflict is incompatible values.

I have a rather eclectic mix of values. Some I picked up from folks. Some from church. Some from work. And so on. I say "picked up", because I want to be clear that they weren't foisted upon me, nor do I continue to subscribe to them because they were given to me as a kid. My values are my values here and now. I choose to keep them. I can choose to let them go.

In many ways, my dad is the archetypal American immigrant. He came to the US after World War II with next to nothing and pulled himself up by his bootstraps. He worked in a steel mill at night, went to school during the day and ended up graduating top of his class in Electrical Engineering. He landed a great job, married a prom queen, climbed the corporate ladder and raised a family. I picked up a lot of values from him:
  1. Work hard
  2. Reasons are not excuses
  3. Expect perfection but accept excellence
  4. Don't take any shit
  5. Deliver on what you say you'll do no matter how unreasonable the terms may be
  6. Don't pay attention to credentials, but listen to what each person says for what its worth
  7. Don't expect others to "get it"
  8. Even if everyone else gives up, what's that got to do with you?
Even though I don't frequently articulate them as I just have, I must say that these values are a strong part of my mix.

I also picked up values from my dad that he never espoused to me, or at least not in the normal way. For example, my dad taught me: creativity is more important than discipline or intelligence. He never said it quite like that. He's not a particularly creative person. However, there were times as a kid where after my dad heard me play music or heard his friends talking about the school concert where the orchestra performed my compositions, he'd say something like: You have a gift that I'll never have, one that I'd give anything for; you are creative.

Although my dad never taught creativity as a value per se, his value of creativity made a deeper impact on me than the others he taught me.

In many ways my mom was the archetypal move-to-the-big-city-and-find-your-fortune woman. She grew up in a little mill-town in South Carolina dreaming of escaping to New York City. She would to marry a tall, dark and handsome European man who would provide for her and show her the world. She would become a great singer and perform for thousands of people. She did all these things and then she had kids.

Looking back, I'm pretty sure that we (the kids) weren't part of her original plan. We were one of those concessions made when you're bartering for the tall, dark European. Over time that changed as did her values. Early on my mom taught me:
  1. Be independent,
  2. Take care of those around you
  3. Know how things work
  4. If you don't know how to do it, don't ask how; figure it out.
  5. Don't wait for or expect help
  6. Decide and act
  7. In the end, you're on you own
You'll note that the first two (being independent and caring) are bit contradictory, but nonetheless I must say that these values are still at my core.

As my mom came to accept that kids were part of her life, her values changed.
  1. Love is a verb. Love actively and expressively.
  2. Do what people mean, not what they say
  3. The greatest gift you can give someone is to listen fully and understand
  4. Find your reward in doing
  5. When you no longer find the doing rewarding, do something else
  6. Only you can make you happy.
  7. Always bring enough for yourself and for others.
  8. If you see someone in need, and you have the capacity to help them, do.
  9. There'll be plenty of time for sleeping in heaven.
The above are values that my mom never verbalized, but ones that she lived. They are anchored pretty deeply in me.

In fact, all the above values are anchored pretty deeply in me and as you can see, I don't need anyone other than myself to experience a conflict of deeply held values, e.g., Don't take any shit and Love actively and expressively. So here I am, a walking talking jumble of conflicting core-values, now articulated.

Thanks for listening. This has been quite helpful for me. What do you value?

Happy Monday,

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