Many many years ago, I sat down and thought about what my values were and how I should live my life. That is the historic context to this post. And it is historic, because it was a long time ago, and they were useful, but not in the most difficult or complex situations, so soon I did not consciously use them at all. But now it feels like its time to refresh them, recommit publicly and make myself accountable. That’s this post.
The original values were just four: Dare, Honour, Excellence and Courage, and to my ear then, they sounded good. MECE, if also a little bit pompous. Which was fine, I could deal with that – they were for me, not public consumption. The problem, though I did not realise it at the time, was that I had not actually figured out what they meant. What’s more, I also did not think about which was more important when their fuzzy definitions contradicted. Whether it was honour versus dare, courage versus excellence or even courage versus dare, the fact that I did not understand what each really meant or how it related to the others left me adrift.
I was going in the right direction though, and those four values are still my core. Careful thinking and exemplary phrases have also clarified what they mean to me. Honour is to do as I would be done by, it is to play the big long game, and it is to do things so that, if I need to tell the story in 5 or 10 years time, I would be proud to tell that story. Excellence is using all my capacity to the best of my ability, aiming to achieve the best outcomes in each situation, always. Dare is to trust my judgement over the judgement of others, recognising that I will make mistakes but can only build better judgement by making those mistakes. And Courage is to do what I am afraid of, to be honest about my own strengths and weaknesses, and to be honest with others how I assess their strengths and weaknesses (this is one of the things I am afraid of).
And I must also think about which value is more important when any one of them contradicts another. After working through each possible pairing, it is clear to me that Honour is most important, and that achieving any or all of the others does not matter if I would not be proud to tell the story in 10 years time. Excellence follows, because the global optimisation needed to play and win the big long game implies local optimisation too. Dare and Courage are harder, and they will often overlap but be aligned. On balance, Dare is more important, because if I cannot trust myself then I cannot improve.
With this analysis, my values are now much clearer to me, and it’s not DHEC anymore, but HEDC instead. I’m still not quite there though, because values alone aren’t everything. Between values and actions which matter are my habits of thought and emotion. There are a few that I have decided to deliberately cultivate, they are my aspirations:
- I will act intentionally and mindfully, because I live in a beautiful world
- I will be grateful, for the same reason
- I will distrust dichotomies, because almost all are false (with thanks to Alex Flint for showing me how lazy they can make me)
- I will change my mind, because I will be wrong
- I will act, because I owe it to everyone around me
Now some of these may change and grow over time, and some detail might be missing, but all that’s OK (see the second bullet). I’m happy with the above. Sadly, just saying all of this is not the same as being it. If only it were that easy! In reality, I have quite some distance still to go, but that’s also OK: Gur gur, bahet mur – stone by stone, the wall is built.