Value Hierarchies

Every complex system, whether it’s a factory tool or a computer or a human being, has to be congruent. Its parts have to work together; every action has to support every other action if it’s to work at a peak level. If the parts of a machine try to go in two different directions at once, the machine will be out of sync and could eventually breaks down.

Human beings are exactly the same. We can learn to produce the most effective behaviors, but if those behaviors don’t support our deepest needs and desires, if those behaviors infringe upon things that are important to us, then we have internal conflict, and we lack the congruency that is necessary for success on a large scale. If a person is getting one thing, but vaguely wanting something else, he won’t be totally happy or fulfilled. Or if a person achieves a goal but, in order to do so, violates his own belief about what is right or wring, then turmoil results. In order to truly change, grow, and prosper, we need to become consciously aware of the rules we have for ourselves and others, of how we really measure or judge success or failure. Otherwise we can have everything and still feel like nothing. This is the power of the final and critical element called values.

What are values? Simply, they are your own private, personal, and individual beliefs about what is most important to you. Your values are your belief systems about right, wrong, good, and bad. Maslow talks about artists, but the point is universal. Our values are the things we all fundamentally need to move toward. If we don’t we won’t feel whole and fulfilled. That feeling of congruity or personal wholeness and unity comes from the sense that we are fulfilling our values by our present behavior. They even determine what you will move away from. They govern your entire life-style. They determine how you will respond to any given experience in life. They are much like the executive level in a computer. You can put in any program you like, but whether the computer accepts the program, whether it uses it or not, all depends on how the executive level was programmed by the factory. Values are like the executive level of judgment in the human brain.

From what you wear and what you drive to where you live, whom you marry (if you marry), or how you raise your children, from what causes you support to what you choose to do for a living, the impact of your values is endless. They are the base that defines our responses to any given situation in life. They are the ultimate key to understanding and predicting your own behaviors as well as the behaviors of others – the master key to unleashing the magic within.

So where do they come from, these powerful instructions as to right and wrong, good and bad, what to do what not to do? Since values are specific, highly emotional, connected beliefs, they come from some of the same sources we discussed on belief. Your environment plays a role, starting when you are a baby. Your father and, especially in traditional families, mother play the biggest role in programming most of your original values. They constantly expressed their values in telling you what they did or did not want you to do, say, and believe. If you accepted their values, you were rewarded; you were a good boy or girl. If you rejected them, you were in trouble; you were a bad kid. In some families, if you continued to reject your parents’ values, you were punished.

In fact, most of your values have been programmed through this punishment reward technique. As you got older, your peer groups were another source of values. When you first encountered other kids in the street, they may have had values different from yours. You blended your values with theirs, or you may have altered your own, because if you didn’t they might beat up or worse – not play with you. Throughout your life, you’ve constantly been creating new peer groups and accepting new values or blending or installing your own in others. Also, throughout your life, you’ve had heroes or maybe antiheroes. And because you admire their accomplishments, you try to emulate who you think they are. Many kids originally got into drugs because their heroes, whose music they loved, seemed to value drugs. Fortunately, today, many of these heroes – realizing their responsibility and opportunity as public figures to shape the values of large numbers of people are now making it clear that they do not use or support the use of drugs. Many artists are making it clear that they stand for positive change in the world. This is shaping a lot of people’s values. Understanding the power of the media to raise money to feed starving people, Bob Geldoff (of Live aid and Band Aid fame) has tapped into the values of other powerful stars. Through their joints efforts and example, they have helped to strengthen the value of giving and compassion for others. Many people who did not hold this value as most important in their lives changed their behaviors when they saw their heroes – Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Kenny Rogers, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, and others telling them directly and daily through their music and videos that people are dying and we’ve got to do something.

Value formation doesn’t end with heroes. It also happens at work, where the same punishment reward system goes on. To work for someone and rise in the company, you adopt some of their values. If you don’t share your boss’ values promotions may be impossible. And if you don’t share the company’s values to begin with, you will be unhappy. Teachers in our school system are constantly expressing their values, and often unconsciously using the same punishment reward system to ensure their adoption.