If you ask most any adult in America today about his or her values, you will find some very familiar and even predictable responses regardless of the usual demographics; age, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, race, religion, occupation, or location in the country. Our values are those essential priorities and high ideals we deem to be most important to us, so naturally they include; good health (mind, body, and spirit), close relationships within the family, with loved ones, and within our vital friendships, a fulfilling social life, healthy self-esteem and self-respect, quality education, gainful employment, a satisfying career, financial security, and opportunities for growth and self-improvement, etc. These are the kinds of things we believe to be enriching.
Nevertheless, millions upon millions of us live grossly inconsistent with what is most valuable to us. In other words, our “lifestyle” does not cultivate, support, or advance what is truly most important to us. And because of this disparity, we pay the cost with poor health, broken relationships, compromising “friendships”, spiritual bankruptcy, poor self-esteem, and little self-respect. We lack for quality education and progressive self-learning and we fall short of maintaining meaningful and gainful employment and career satisfaction. Furthermore, instead of realizing steady and upward personal growth and encouraging self-improvement we find ourselves stagnating or regressing. Frustration and anger become common to us. We too often feel anxious and depressed. And in deficit of healthy self-respect and reasonable impulse control, we are then prone to cope with stress by any number of self-destructive habits and dangerous addictions.
Just look around and you will see this to be true and widespread. The greater collective of modern American society lives in compromise of values which are enriched with, and fortified by integrity and virtue; that which is morally uplifting to our manifested civility and humanity. Truly, far too many of us are over-fed, over-medicated, and over-stimulated with shallow information and hollow entertainment and recreation. We are largely sleep deprived, and too often ridden with tension that we carry in our neck, shoulders, and back. Our stomachs churn and minds ache with stress. Too often we amble through life uninspired and feeling disoriented, disconnected, and discouraged. We are dissatisfied with mediocrity, and we should be.
How has this happened to us in our modern American culture? There are a few explanations. The most obvious one is that we are so easily programed and “brain-washed” into believing that our self-indulgent pleasures with bring us fulfillment. We are force-fed the “American dream” which promotes hyper-consumerism, and so we buy things we don’t really need with money we don’t really have. We are programed to be ever entertained, and so we spend liberally of our time and money to “enjoy” life, but maybe at the high cost of overlooking more essential needs and greater priorities.
We tell ourselves we can’t afford to eat healthy, get a better education, join a health club, but we easily buy junk food and fast food, or buy and consume beverages and substances that don’t support our health whatsoever. We “afford” cable TV service, but not the gym membership. We purchase expensive recreational vehicles and boats, etc. but we don’t want to invest in our own mental health through a series of high-impact counseling/therapy programs that can really make a profound difference in how we think, feel, and perform; with great potential to actualize real and lasting positive change. We buy the latest and greatest smart phones, but believe that we can’t afford a bicycle or a good pair of hiking shoes that we might actually use instead of being sedentary and getting sucked-into a non-stop frenzy of social media that is likely to be far more superficial than beneficial. Does any of this sound personally familiar?
So what can we do to live consistently with our values and reap the benefits inherent of being in alignment with them? Remember, we identified our “lifestyle” as the key element in this concern. I believe that our lifestyle is a culmination of the patterns and habits of even our simplest choices, day in and day out. Choices always begin with questions and options. This is what I like to do to strive towards living in harmony with my values. First I take a close look at my values and the belief systems that explain them and support them. I want to be very clear and I want to aim high.
Next, I ask questions and examine my options. I like to begin with simple yes or no requests. Example: “Does this purchase support any of my critical values?” “What are my reasonable options?” A few more yes or no questions ~ “Can I afford to spend this money on this……. right now?” “Am I being impulsive, self-indulgent, irresponsible, reckless, etc.?” “Will this bring me closer to my goal of……(insert the relevance of the important value)?” I can’t fake-myself-out because I know better, and I won’t want to fool myself into believing that I can better manage this system of healthy choosing at some other time in the future, because I care too much about my values right now.
Let’s all do better to get clear on our values, and choose actions which will protect, support, and advance them. This is what living with balance and harmony and being at peace with self looks like. Let’s not let all of the enticements within our modern American ~ consumer-driven culture provide the defining influences on how we live our lives. Let’s be thoughtful and disciplined consumers. Let’s invest in our health (mind, body, and spirit). Let’s cultivate empowering self-respect, and then let this be the catalyst for how we treat others respectfully. Let’s not compromise our cherished morals, integrity, virtues, and fine human character. Let’s make our humanity beautifully human through how we live in consistency with our inspiring and encouraging values.
Kurt M. Leonard, MSW, LSWAIC, MHP (Healthy Counseling Center; Spokane, WA)