Every individual, regardless of race, creed, colour, sex, or age, inherently has a set of values. We each have something we think is most important, second most important, third most important, and so on. We call this set of priorities a hierarchy of values.
Our individual hierarchies determine how we sense the world, filter those perceptions, and interpret and react to what we feel and think as a result.
Imagine a husband and wife. Her highest values are raising her children, educating them, and safeguarding the health of her family; while his are making money, building resources and business, and providing for his family. (I don’t mean to reinforce stereotypes here, but we’ll explore this scenario since it’s so common.) Imagine this couple shopping, walking hand in hand. As they stroll the plaza, she sees things that he doesn’t, and vice versa.
She spots toys for the kids, school clothes, books and games that will help her children learn, healthy snacks, and brochures for family activities – all kinds of items that align with her values. She’ll notice and filter her vision through her unique set of principles. Her husband will walk through the plaza and see none of these things; in fact, his eyes will avoid them. He’ll notice The Wall Street Journal, computers, books and magazines for entrepreneurs, and gifts for clients – anything that might help him in business or in his intellectual development, because these things matter to him.
The hierarchy of their values – not gender or anything else-determines how they filter their reality and their environment; they see opportunities accordingly. What they realize through their senses is their reality, which is determined by the beliefs they project.
I’ll repeat: All human beings act according to their own values! Write that in your heart, because it’s an important principle. We often project our system onto other people, expecting them to adhere to it, rather than honoring them as they act in line with their own.
Anytime you expect someone to live outside of their own value system, you create a false expectation. However, you can choose to learn the art of communicating your priorities in terms of theirs. In direct proportion to how well you can do that, they’ll still live according to their beliefs, but in a way that satisfies you both.
RESISTANCE IS FUTILE
There’s a funny off-Broadway musical called l Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. Sound familiar? Have you ever thought you’ve found the perfect mate and then spent the rest of your relationship together trying to ‘fix’ him or her? Futile, isn’t it?
The moment you project onto other people and expect them to live according to your values instead of their own, you label them as ‘bad’ (or some version of that, such as a judgmental ‘lazy,’ ‘sloppy,’ or ‘rude’). You think they need to be changed, and you’re just the one to do it. After all, you’re the one with the ‘right’ values… aren’t you?
Maybe you’re starting to think that all you have to do is find someone with the exact same belief system as you and then everything will be just peachy. I’ve done my research, and I can assure you that no two people ever have the exact same priorities – they’re as unique as fingerprints or voices. We can compare this to a principle in physics called the Pauli exclusion principle: No two quantum particles, or people, will ever have the same quantum numbers of representation of the universe.
That poses a challenge for relationships, doesn’t it? Everyone sees through different eyes, and we still must interact with others who have totally different expectations. As if that’s not tough enough, we then compound it with something else.
If Joe attempts to live in line with some idealism that society, his culture, or his family may have imposed, he’ll be uncertain of his actual values. He’ll act as he ‘should’ instead of being himself. If he then meets Carol and becomes infatuated, he’ll put her on a pedestal. He’ll assume that she has her life put together better than he does, and he’ll think that somehow his values are wrong and hers are right.
Have you ever done this – questioned yourself and started trying to change to please someone else? When you idolize someone, you tend to inject their beliefs into yours. Then you find yourself thinking, I really ought to be doing this. I should do that. I’m supposed to do this. You try to live by someone else’s system, but still have your own, creating internal conflict. You live with moral dilemmas and imperatives.
Perhaps instead of putting someone on a pedestal with infatuation, you put someone in a pit with resentment. As another example, let’s say you’re walking down the street and spot a homeless person, avoiding him, and thinking he’s less than you are. You minimize him, rather than exaggerate him. Instead of injecting his value system into yours, you force your judgment onto him. You think: He ought to get a job. He shouldn’t be asking me for money. He’s supposed to contribute more to society! You don’t see him for who he ultimately is and the service he contributes.
How often have you done this sort of thing? As long as you’re ‘shoulding’ on yourself with others’ ideas, or ‘shoulding’ on others with your own, you’re spending futile energy.
The hierarchy of your values dictates your destiny. Trying to live someone else’s way or imposing yours on others is patently unwise. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, ‘Envy is ignorance… [and] imitation is suicide.’ Yet most everyone does both – in fact, our society encourages it. The media machine commonly chooses heroes to idealize, and the public accepts those individuals’ into their own lives. Of course, when the heroes have their inevitable falls from grace, we throw them into the pit, at least for a while.
HIGHER AND LOWER ORDER
You, like every other human, focus on what’s most important to you. Therefore, whatever’s highest on your values hierarchy will also have the most order (that is, steady, concentrated focus and a surplus of attention). Chaos increases as you go down the list (that is, unsteady, scattered focus, approaching attention deficit disorder).
Returning to our previous example of the husband and wife, this means that if the wife’s highest values are her children, their health, and her home, she has that organized. But forget about her profession, finances, and everything else – unless she has them connected to her real priorities. She may not know how to keep and balance a checkbook or run a business. It would be chaotic if you put her in charge of a sales and promotion campaign for your business – yet she might excel if you gave her the task of fund-raising for her children’s school. On the other hand, if the husband has business and finance as his top priorities, that’s where you’ll find his order and organization. But if you put him in front of a bunch of kids, he’s lost and helpless – chaos! That is, until you have him in an elementary classroom to do market research on a new product he’s developing for that age-group.
Your hierarchy of values determines which parts of your life are ordered and which parts are chaotic, where you’re disciplined and where you aren’t. You always make time for what’s high on your list but never seem to have time for things that are lower. That’s why, when one spouse says, ‘Honey, I want you to do this (thing that the other spouse isn’t interested in)…’ the other person says, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah…’ and never gets around to doing it – because it isn’t high on their values ladder. It simply isn’t a priority.
Those who say yes but then don’t follow through could be perceived as delaying, procrastinating, and being uncooperative; but if they were able to see how following through would actually support what’s important to them, they’d get right on it. Then they could be perceived as extremely disciplined and devoted. Either way, people always act with absolute faithfulness to their own values. Can you see this in your own life?
There are no lazy people, difficult people, know-it-alls, snobs, or bums! These are just labels. In actuality, everyone has these traits and their opposite traits, and they’re just expressed in different forms based on one’s beliefs.
Communicate in terms of someone else’s values. This helps others feel understood and loved for who they are, not for who you think they ought to be. Fulfillment can only occur when you are free and clear to live what is true for you. Allow others to do that, celebrate their priorities with them, and you’ll feel it, too.
Eds note: You can determine your values now. Visit www.drdemartini.com/value_determination