For so long we have made financial worth, material objects and physically stimulated experiences our primary measures of ‘value’. We are frequently being told that ‘more’ is better so ‘value’ is measured in terms of amounts/quantities. As a consequence we live in a world where quantity is confused with quality.
If your company has a greater volume of certain ‘data’ it is of greater ‘financial’ value in the stock exchange. The value of its service to society is almost ignored. Lists are issued comparing the relative wealth of people who are all so rich that comparisons are almost meaningless. One hundred billion may be of greater ‘material value’ but is such a personal fortune really more satisfying, therefore of greater ‘personal’ value, then one of fifty billion?
Even in the world of art value tends to be measured by using a quantitative material yardstick? It’s assumed that Picasso is the greatest artist of the 20th century because his paintings fetch the highest prices and are therefore perceived to be of greater value. But even if the experts judge an expensive painting to be of greater value than that of a cheap one, surely it’s still the eye of the beholder that decides it’s value. Simply because ‘true value’ is a personally ascribed aesthetic measure (quality) not a collectively agreed financial assessment (quantity).
It is obviously impossible to give a numerical/quantitative value to those aspects of our life experience we obviously ‘value’ above all e.g. that of being at peace in mind and heart, giving and receiving love, realizing what is true and being able to generate our own happiness. In that part of the ‘universe’, often referred to as our own consciousness i.e. ‘the spiritual’ dimension, ‘more tangible quantity’ is NOT of greater value, than ‘deeper intangible quality’.
Values Confusion, Clash and Crisis
It seems that the word ‘value’ tends to be frequently misused so that it’s true meaning is obscured and often lost. Hence the emergence of ‘values confusion’ at an individual level, ‘values clashes’ in a collective context, and the ‘crisis of values’ now frequently perceived within society itself. One cause and also a consequence of this loss of meaning is when the idea of ‘value’ and ‘values’ are loosely mixed with concepts such as needs, desires, attachments and beliefs.
A need arises within us when we feel and believe something is missing. At the most mundane level, the material level, we may say we need a car if we don’t have transport to get form A to B on a daily basis. But we may not be fully honest with ourselves if there are other methods to make the journey. In truth, our need is probably a desire in disguise. Need is not desire. But we may phrase our need for the car by saying “I would ‘value’ a car so that I can use it to travel”. In truth it would be a genuine need if there were no other way.
It would be a desire if there was the belief that the car would add something to our self-image, or make us happy in some way. The car would be of genuine value if we saw it only serving the utilitarian function of getting us from A to B. Yes it’s true that when selling the car we would ‘evaluate’ its worth in quantitative terms and then give it a ‘monetary value’. And so we have two kinds of value. One is qualitative according to personal convenience and comfort of travel. The other is quantitative in monetary terms.
Value and Attachment
In real life material objects such as cars become more than just utilitarian items. They are sold to us not only as a function but as fashion. It’s when we buy the car for various reasons (size, comfort, convenience, economy, style, prestige etc.) that the lines between value, need, desire and attachment are blurred. The car seems to satisfy a ‘need’ that is really a ‘desire’, which is to be seen in a shiny new car, or to travel in elegant luxury. The car then becomes an ‘attachment’ that is ‘desired’ only for how expensive it is and for its looks, and therefore how well it serves as an extension to ones self-image. The car then becomes a form of ‘dependency’. What we don’t tend to notice is that one of the main reasons why we are vague about our values is that we don’t realize that as soon as there is the presence of attachment and dependency within our consciousness it makes it almost impossible ‘to value’ i.e. to genuinely care for something or someone.
How do we know? When something happens to ‘the object’ of attachment, albeit a thing or a person, we create emotional suffering. Or when the person we are apparently care about doesn’t do or be what we ‘desire’ we create emotional suffering and blame them for our suffering. Notice that when you suffer emotionally and blame others for your emotional state you cannot ‘be caring’. In such moments you cannot ‘ascribe value’.
Value is a Verb not a Noun!
One of the simplest definitions of ‘value’ is ‘to care’. In it’s true meaning ‘value’ is a verb not a noun! What you ‘value’ is what you ‘care about’, not to be confused with ‘worry about’ (worrying is fearing not caring). When we value a friendship we ‘care for’ the other and ‘care about’ the relationship, probably more deeply than some other relationships. Not to be confused with attachment! To extend ‘care’ for anything i.e. ‘to value’, means the self has to be free of selfishness or any of its emotional extensions like anger or fear.
If someone damages the car and we react with anger it is a selfish reaction that extends anger towards another person. It is not a sign that we care about the car, or that we care about the person, it is NOT a sign that we value the car, although it may seem so! It is a sign that we are taking it personally and feeling hurt just because a piece of metal is damaged. We are concerned only for our self, for our own feelings. We don’t ‘value’ the car but we are attached to the car. In this way we confuse value with attachment.
Similarly when we value another person we extend to that person love as care. We care about them. Care is love in action. But if we become jealous when they talk to someone else, or if we become irritated by their behaviour, love is lost, care disappears, and we no longer ‘value’ them as evidenced by the animosity, resentment or anger we show towards them. In truth we probably never did ‘value’ them i.e. truly care about them, but were more likely just ‘attached’ to them, needy of something from them, which is suddenly being denied. And so the lines between, value, attachment and dependency are blurred.
Language can have a large part to play in our ability to be clear about our values. When we objectify and ‘pluralise’ our ‘values’ we imply that values are just other ‘things’ that can be quantified, therefore itemized and obtained. But ‘value’ is not a noun, it is a verb. Value is not something you acquire or have, it is something you do.
Value is something we ‘ascribe’ to an object or a relationship, or to anything for that matter. That’s obvious at a material level. We ‘ascribe’ the value of two Euros or Dollars to a kilo of apples, or two thousand Euros/Dollars to a car. But the process of ‘valuing’ is not so easy to ‘see and do’ at the non-material level with those more invisible possibilities like loyalty, respect, trust etc. In a world where we are generally taught to focus and often fixate on the material we tend to learn that our ‘values’ are defined by objects, like cars and homes. So values tend to become ‘things’. Few of us learn that value is something you do. But it is only something you can do ‘accurately’ when there is no attachment or dependency. We receive so little education on how to ‘ascribe value’.
The Seven Jars of Value
We both explore and reveal our personal values through the choices we make. How do we respond if we are challenged to prioritise between a number of different non-material but obviously ‘valued’ commodities? We may find some commodities have equal value, and we cannot decide between them. Here is an interesting exercise to test the clarity of your ‘ascriptive ability’. Imagine a shelf with seven jars on it. A genie is waiting nearby for you to give him one of the jars, and you know that he may return again and again in the future, taking one jar at a time until only one is left. Picture the jars carefully. You will have to decide in which order you would be prepared to let them go according to the value you ‘ascribe’ to each. In other words you have to prioritize the objects by the ascending value that you ascribe to the contents of each jar,
- The first jar is like a perfume bottle, and contains a magical balm, which will soothe away all your worries.
- The second is shaped like a beautiful soaring bird, and contains positive thoughts.
- The third is still gift wrapped, and contains the good wishes we have of your friends.
- The fourth jar is plain clay, caked in mud, but you can see some archaic patterns where the surface is exposed; this contains ancient wisdom about the precise ‘workings of the spirit’ that you are.
- The fifth is a spherical container, balanced on the shoulders of a porcelain figure, and contains emotional support from your closest friend.
- The sixth is clear glass, etched with diamonds, containing creative talents.
- The seventh is shaped like a pair of cupped hands, and contains blessings from your parents.
Choose which jar you would give away immediately, and then decide in what order you will give them up in future, should you ever have to do so.
As you make your choices notice how you obviously must ascribe value to one, or to some, more or less than others. As you ascribe value notice what you are calling upon within your self to give you the ability and capacity to ascribe a difference in value. It is a combination of peace, love and truth. There must be inner peace to be able to look, see and consider clearly within your self – which means there needs to be the absence of the agitation of any desire.
There must be love to remain open and able to discern the quality of each of the seven and to be able to ‘ascribe’ a deeper quality of ‘caring’ without dependency to one more than another. This requires the absence of any attachment around which you would become closed, generate fear of loss and therefore bias/sabotage your ‘ascriptions’!
And there must be the presence of truth in the sense that you have an innate knowingness and awareness that allows you to discern which one will contribute more to the maintenance of harmony within yourself and with others. Which means you need to be free from pre-programmed beliefs about the contents of each jars contents that may bias your sense of how accurately each ‘commodity’ is aligned to what is true.
Phew! Its challenging, this ‘ascribing of value’ business!!
Isn’t it interesting to note that in the process of ‘ascribing value’ we bring to bear what we often identify and acknowledge as our deepest values – peace, love and truth – sometimes referred to as our ‘spiritual values’. Suggesting that what we value most deeply we already have and indeed already are!
This is probably why virtue meets value at the deepest level within our self. They are ultimately one and the same. Not commodities that are separate from us but our very nature from which we are able to value everything else. Ultimately they describe ‘states of being’ and if we are not ‘in’ those states of being they would not be present as both the process and the background to valuing then we would not be able to ascribe value clearly, cleanly and accurately.
In truth it is the presence of love itself that gives us the ability to ascribe value. And the presence of love is only possible in a state of peace.
In summary, we do not have values, we ascribe value. Values are not things that can be separated out.
We can only ascribe value accurately when we are in a peaceful and loving state, otherwise bias and prejudice will creep in. When we objectify our values we confuse values with attachments and desire. Value is a verb long before it is a noun.
Such is the journey into this deep and fascinating territory that lies entirely within our consciousness.
Question: What’s the difference between a value and valuing?
Reflection: We say we value our freedom one minute but don’t realise we relinquish it a moment later by saying we ‘hate’ someone or something. We don’t notice that when we hate we become a slave to the object of our hatred. In that moment our freedom is lost. We kill what we value but don’t realise that we do so. Can you think of another example.
Action: Do the jars exercise above (on paper) everyday this week and see how your answer varies and why.
Source Credits: BK Mike George in Clear Thinking of Inner Beauty Consultant. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org