Out of 5.8 billion people in the world, the majority of them are certainly not believers in Buddhism. We can’t argue with them, tell them they should be believers. No! Impossible! And, realistically speaking, if the majority of humanity remain nonbelievers, it doesn’t matter. No problem! The problem is that the majority have lost, or ignore, the deeper human values – compassion, a sense of responsibility. That is our big concern.
– The Dalai Lama in ‘Time’, December 1997
It’s almost a cliché to say we have lost our values: politicians refer to this supposed development all the time. You may remember George W Bush’ statement saying ‘higher ethical standards’ were America’s ‘highest economic need’. My Dutch friends might remember ex-prime minister Balkenende’s dreaded plea for the return of ‘norms and values’. I’m wondering, though, do we really lack values or do we just not pronounce them as explicitly? Have you ever thought about what your values are? I think most people do behave according to particular values; we might just not be doing it consciously. I picked this quote by the Dalai Lama, because even though I disagree with his statement saying the majority of people don’t act according to values, I think he nicely points out the common misconception that ethical values only exist in religion. It’s time to let go of the ‘church sermon’ feeling we instinctively get when discussing ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, thus this blog post.
So, let’s talk about this! I want to tell you about the values that I feel are dearest to me, so as to inspire you to start thinking yourself. Regard it as an opportunity to get to know me and yourself just a little bit better (or to postpone writing that essay just a little bit longer): what are your most important values and why? I’ll discuss how I decided which values are most important to me, after which I’ll talk a little bit about how ‘responsibility’ (important value no. 1) and ‘openness to change’ (no. 2) are reflected in my life.
Finding my most important values was difficult for me. ‘I must be an unethical person’ I couldn’t help thinking each Wednesday evening after ethics class, considering the champagne bottle I secretly took from a bunch of drunk, rich people in a club last Saturday, among some other ‘incidents’. (As you can see from the tone of my writing I hardly feel guilty at all) Anyway, some Googling brought me to a website where I could do several morality tests, the results of which I didn’t rely on heavily, but the questions of which got me brainstorming for a couple of hours. (I encourage you to do the same: http://www.yourmorals.org) A very important step in the process was talking to other people about it; I know it seems strange to go and talk exclusively about yourself with other people, but pick some friends or family members you trust won’t judge you; you’ll see how useful (and sometimes flattering) it is. You may want to take into account their respective biases. For example, when I asked my Mum about it she pointed out that she thought ‘fairness’ is an important value to me. Clearly, I hadn’t told her about the stolen champagne bottle or the other ‘incidents’. 😉 Anyway, when you’ve done all these things, you can start picking the values you came across most. In my case, ‘responsibility’ and ‘openness to change’ popped up.
People who know me at least a little bit will agree with my choosing responsibility as an important value in my decision-making. Overall, I act responsibly in decision-making in academic as well as in social life. To me, responsibility is something that seems very much embedded in my instincts. You know how you get a bit of a funny tingly feeling in your belly when you know something’s a bit off? That’s what I get whenever I feel somebody in my near vicinity does not have a full grip on his/her own fate. For example, when people count on others to make them happy in life.
I feel good knowing that I am in full charge of my present and future situation. I cannot expect that others will make the right decisions for me or that things will arrange themselves: I must take the initiative to create my own life and happiness. Now I’ve got that truism out of the way I’d like to emphasise the different forms I think responsibility can take. Responsibility isn’t necessarily as boring as some view it, in my opinion. In my particular case, there are two general forms of responsibility that can be seen in my life: responsibility for one’s own experiences and responsibility for one’s future situation. This is reflected in that I’m able to live in the moment, while still being an ambitious person. Others might suggest ways in which to enjoy or enrich yourself, but in the end it’s always you undertaking something. Even though you are able to enjoy the moment, this does not mean that you should disregard opportunities to improve your future that might come by, that might help to improve yourself. With a bit of discipline and an open mind, you can easily make yourself see the fun in learning and initiative-taking.
What I haven’t mastered just yet, is to see the boundaries of responsibility. On the one hand feeling responsible for the well being of those that are close to me, feels like a way of caring for them. However, they have their own right as well as obligation to be responsible to themselves. So, where do I come in? I feel I still need to learn that other people may have a different sense of responsibility, which may vary in strength.
OPENNESS TO CHANGE
Now this value to me is just as broad as the previous one. ‘Change’ can involve changing surroundings, social life, attitudes, lifestyle and future. I have changed my surroundings recently, by coming to live in HK for half a year. My social life has also changed since I’ve made many new friends here. I feel my attitudes are changing, because I’m being confronted with many different views held by people from all over the world. My lifestyle has changed, since I’m now cooking for myself (occasionally dining out) every day, rather than going to the Dining Hall on the University College Utrecht campus. And finally, my future plans are constantly changing, because I’m finding out about new possibilities and opportunities all the time. I have embraced all of these changes and so far I’ve hardly been frustrated by them. Rather than that, I’ve come to HK with an open mind and an open heart, which has greatly benefited my ‘integration’.
Precisely this is the reason why I find openness to change, a collection of the values open-mindedness, tolerance and flexibility, so important in my life. Ideally, I would like my life to always be evolving into something new, ever-changing. I want to always be working to enhance myself as well as benefit those around me. In my opinion, the way to do this is to gather new insights by engaging in ‘new’ discussions with ‘new’ people in a ‘new’ environment, while not underestimating the value of ‘old’ friends and family.
In short, despite the difficulty of figuring out exactly which values I cherish most, I must say I’m proud to have shared the previous post with you. I feel it reflects much about my decision-making as well as my personality. Besides this, I think I’ve provided a picture that most of the people that know me well can agree with.
But now it’s time for you! What are your most important values? If you have difficulty choosing them, why? Furthermore, what do you think of ethical values in general? Are they deteriorating in modern society? Please share any thoughts you have with the other readers!
Next post will be about the touristy stuff I’ll be undertaking with my parents who are coming over next Monday!
P.S. For those interested, I can highly recommend the following book that is required reading in the ethics course I’m taking at the moment:
Howard, R.A. & Korver, C.D. (2008). Ethics for the real world: Creating a personal code to guide decisions in work and life. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.