It’s relatively easy to work out the prices of THINGS because they can be measured, weighed, or appraised. But life’s greatest treasures are intangible and, therefore, immeasurable. I can borrow a cup of sugar, but not a cup of love. I can buy four pounds of beef, but not four pounds of forgiveness. And I can rent an 800 square foot apartment, but not 800 square feet of wisdom.
It is easier to sell shoes than to sell life insurance because shoes are tangible; their value is obvious. But the value of goodness, or virtue, may not be immediately or readily clear. So, it’s not surprising that, as Oscar Wilde (1856 ~ 1900) quipped, “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
When commenting on the tangible versus the intangible, Albert Einstein (1879 ~ 1955) said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” So, it’s time for us to ask ourselves, “What counts? What are the true, meaningful, and lasting values? These questions are intimately woven into our very nature and their significance is explained by John Galt (1779 ~ 1839):
“Man has been called a rational being, but rationality is a matter of choice – and the alternative his nature offers him is: rational being or suicidal animal. Man has to be man – by choice; he has to hold his life as a value – by choice; he has to learn to sustain it – by choice; he has to discover the values it requires and practice his virtues – by choice. A code of values accepted by choice is a code of morality.”
Yes, a job, money, and possessions have value, but their value is in what they add to life. And what they add is spice. They represent the salt and pepper of life. The meat of life consists of the intangibles: friendships, relationships, love, service, creativity, civility, kindness, and spirituality, to name a few. Our values form our character and define us. They shape who we are. They are what make us memorable. Our values are what make us valuable. They give our life meaning, purpose, and direction. They guide our choices and direct our lives.
It is because of their importance that we need to pause occasionally, take stock of ourselves, and make sure we haven’t lost sight of what is really significant. What values should you be focusing on? One of the beautiful things about life is that we are all unique and can contribute to it differently. So, you will have to decide for yourself what values to embrace and use as the guiding principles of your life. However, just to get the ball rolling, I will suggest a few values that are worthy of consideration, and later you can build your own list.
1. VALUE YOURSELF. Why? Marcus T. Cicero (c. 106 ~ 43 BC) explains, “You will be as much value to others as you have been to yourself.” Besides, as Leo F. Buscaglia wrote, “Value yourself. The only people who appreciate a doormat are people with dirty shoes.” Get to know and cherish yourself. Become familiar with your own strengths and weaknesses. Use your strengths to help others and your weaknesses to improve yourself. And keep in mind the words of Albert Einstein, “”Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.”
2. VALUE COMPASSION. True, William Hazlitt (1778 ~ 1830) did write, “The least pain in our little finger gives us more concern and uneasiness than the destruction of millions of our fellow-beings.” But prove him wrong by showing you wish to lessen the suffering of others. We can all do our share and in our own way. Although it’s admirable to send donations to help those in need thousands of miles away, begin by having compassion for yourself and your immediate family, then your coworkers and friends, and, finally, the strangers you meet.
3. VALUE PASSION. Enthusiasm and passion energize our lives. But not unbridled passion, not reckless enthusiasm, for as Sam Keen writes, “The value of passion, like fire, is judged finally by the amount of warmth and light it creates. Fanatics, like forest fires, burn bright but destroy all in their path that is tender and green. To be useful, fire must be confined. To live passionately, we must develop discipline; to love powerfully, we must forge bonds of commitment. Passion is inseparable from compassion.”
4. VALUE KNOWLEDGE. Although almost everyone is familiar with the expression “Knowledge is power,” a surprisingly large number of people misunderstand the meaning of knowledge. They think anything written in a book is knowledge. However, if I were to write a book on how a UFO landed in my backyard and its passengers abducted me and later returned me to my own bed, such a book would be a collection of words, not a collection of facts. Knowledge is a collection of facts, not words. If we truly value knowledge, we will approach every subject with honest skepticism. We learn with a questioning mind and become indoctrinated with an unquestioning one. That’s why Buddha (568 ~ 488 BC) taught, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” Finally, knowledge is power, but only when we use it, so don’t just read, but apply what you learn.
5. VALUE KINDNESS. Everyone can make a major contribution to the world by embracing the values of kindness and tenderness. Your kindness warms the hearts of others, relieves their burdens, and makes them feel valuable. To live a life of kindness we need to remember two things. First, one kind act is worth more than a dozen good intentions. Second, be kinder to your enemies than they are to their friends.
6. VALUE TIME. When we value time, we put it to good use. When we waste it, we trivialize it. Charles Darwin (1809 ~ 1882) aptly stated, “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.”
7. VALUE MENTORING. Whether you wish to or not, you are influencing others. You may be influencing them for the better or for the worse. You may be uplifting them or tearing them down. If we value mentoring or coaching, we become a source of encouragement and inspiration and help to make the world a better place.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 ~ 1831) taught, “Life has a value only when it has something valuable as its object.” So, when we center our lives on values, we become valuable. The value of life, then, is not determined by its length, but how we put it to use. Wealth is not riches; possessions are not abundance, and self is not everything, but values bring meaning, purpose, and direction to life. A modest, simple life filled with meaning is worth far more than an elaborate, splendiferous one that is meaningless. So, let’s reconsider our values and cultivate those that are badly needed, for the world is counting on us.