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Values in Meaning: Our Guiding Compass

Updated: Feb 6

Modern life offers people a wealth of some forms of meaning, but it doesn't offer clear guidance about fundamental values. The "values gap," as I shall call it, is the single biggest problem for the modern Western individual in making a life meaningful. 
~ Roy F. Baumeister ~

Do you agree with Dr. Bauermeister's proposition that our biggest problem is a "values gap" in making life meaningful? After all, what is "value"? And what is its role in meaning and personality? In previous blog posts, I wrote about the anatomy of meaning.

 

A meaning has six components (i.e., factors): attributions, beliefs, values, feelings, attitudes, and aims. Then, in subsequent posts, I discussed the first two components, attributions, and beliefs. Attributions encompass a person’s defining and inherent character traits or qualities. They also ascribe intent. On the other hand, belief is a firmly held opinion or conviction, a view of what is true or real.

In this blog, let's dive into the fascinating world of values, why they matter, and how they can be applied to our benefit.



What is Value?

In logoteleology, values reveal a person's principles or standards of behavior. But it is not just people who are influenced or guided by values. For example, governments have constitutions and laws, companies have policies and procedures, and couples make marriage vows to cement their commitment to one another. You can call them values, laws, regulations, standards, obligations, expectations, commitments, promises, contracts, or vows – they all share regulating agreements within the self and with others. They set the rules we agree to follow to maintain integrity and predictability, be civil, maintain “law and order” (or order through law),  and live productive lives. Our value storage mental file can have helpful and meaningful norms, meaningless and harmful rules, and some indispensable ones missing or not part of our self-regulatory inventory.


As one of meaning's elements (i.e., construct), value is the depository of the human conscience and is tasked with regulating behavior.

 

… value is the depository of the human conscience and is tasked with regulating behavior.


Types of Values

There are natural values, social values, and personal values.

 

Natural Values

 

Natural values are those intrinsic principles present in the natural world. They are there, period. You do not have to believe that they exist, yet natural values or laws exact a penalty if you go against them.[i] Applying them harmoniously serves you well – like building a beautifully engineered airplane (I love the look and grace of the 1940s P-54s and Spitfires). These models fly well because the design reflects the utilization of natural laws to achieve efficient and effective flight. Engineers and designers harness principles such as lift, thrust, drag, and gravity to enable the aircraft to "grace the skies with effortless glide." As long as the aircraft's design is harmonious with natural laws, it will fly well. Needless to say, it is best to avoid going against natural laws when either designing or flying a plane.


Natural values also manage our biodiverse environment and ecological balance. They also dictate the social norms that spearhead human thriving. Violating the norms inherently present in the natural world produces suffering, instability, and failure. Man-made famine due to ecological misuse of the environment, for instance, is the outcome of violating natural norms. In short, operating against natural laws may have cascading effects, leading to unintended and often undesirable consequences.


Social Values


Social values are commitments between two or more people – such as the social contract captured in marriage vows and a country's constitution. Hence, social values refer to the shared principles and standards that guide the behavior and interactions of individuals within a specific society or community. These values shape the collective identity and define what is considered important, acceptable, or desirable within a social group. Social values play a crucial role in influencing individual and collective decision-making, relationships, and the overall culture of a society.


Social values vary depending on cultural concerns, such as traditions, customs, and behavioral norms. For instance, some cultures follow collectivist norms or values, while others give prominence to individual autonomy.


Social values explain concepts such as justice, fairness, freedom, community, tradition, respect, compassion, and honesty. They prevent social anarchy, chaos, and conflicts such as wars. A group or society guided by meaningful values creates conditions for human well-being and thriving.


Personal Values in Meaning: Our Guiding Compass

 

 

These standards make personal self-regulation possible. We self-regulate to manage and modulate our feelings, emotions, thoughts, physiological responses, and eventual behavior to achieve optimal functioning and well-being. A logoteleological fundamental principle states that self-regulation requires rules. No person or system can self-regulate without laws, principles, standards, or values.

 

We learn to adapt and respond to expectations from childhood by following rules. Over time, we receive and build our internal code of conduct. We develop our standard of good and evil, acceptable and unacceptable, moral and ethical versus immoral and unethical. These become our guiding compass when we grant them the power to overrule, for instance, our impulses and drives.


Values as Unconscious Injunctions, Permissions, and Enablers


 Based on my experience and empirical studies, many people still need to inventory and analyze their values. For instance, according to Transactional Analysis Psychology, people have internalized (and even introjected[ii]) psychological prohibitions or injunctions. These rulings dictate what is unacceptable regarding behavior, emotions, feelings, or relationships. For instance, a child might receive a prohibition against expressing anger openly, leading them to internalize the belief that anger is unacceptable. 


People also internalize psychological permissions that allow or grant freedom to feel certain feelings, engage in certain behaviors, express certain emotions, or form particular relationships.


Then, there are psychological enablers, which are positive reinforcements or influences that contribute to a person's overall life strategy or meaning of life.

 


On all three definitions, by "internalized" values, I mean they were given or imposed on us without our conscious consent; hence, they operate without validation. This internalization often occurs through repeated exposure to external messages, experiences, or societal norms, leading individuals to adopt and accept these influences as part of their self-concept (i.e., identity) and worldview. I will elaborate on a future blog that values expressed as injunctions, permissions, and enablers are part of and reveal a person's life script or unconscious meaning of life. For our purposes now, it is important to understand that injunctions, permissions, and enablers can lead us to either the meaningful or the meaningless paths. In other words, we can have psychological prohibitions and permissions to do good and bad things. Hence, our next point.


The Positive and Dark Side of Values


Logoteleologists or meaningful purpose psychology practitioners assist clients in validating their values through conscious, planned, and intentional methods. The approach reveals those values that support well-being and those that do not. The process allows the client to examine their internalized values and choose and decide which to keep and to replace. Said differently, MP practitioners help transform internalized automatic-unconscious values into meaningful self-selected automatic-conscious norms.


Positive and meaningful values, as stated, foster well-being and promote natural and social harmony. They are indispensable as a precondition for human thriving. Meaningful values – collaborating with our attributions and beliefs -- are a path to wisdom. They help us generate a hierarchy of values to improve our judgment.


Unhealthy or meaningless values, on the other hand, can create havoc because they contradict natural, social, and personal value systems. For instance, other people might want to impose their values or rules of engagement at your expense, violating your sense of fairness and justice. This imposition is apparent when the hierarchy of values of the affected parties is not validated as healthy, coordinated, and agreed to.

 

Caring about our values and their quality is an indispensable life task if we are to thrive. Living it to chance or ignoring how we regulate our behavior explains why problems at all levels persist, as shared by Roy F. Baumeister in the beginning quote.


Practical Applications

Here are helpful actions from meaningful purpose psychology (MP) you can take:

  1. Validate and, where appropriate, improve your values. Consider leveraging a meaningful purpose psychology practitioner to guide you.

  2. Evaluating internal (self-talk) conflict (i.e., cognitive dissonance) can reveal opposing operating values. Please heed what they tell you and get help to reach peace of mind and experience psychological harmony.

  3. Do not expect or ask others to go against their values or violate their conscience.

  4. Do not allow others to impose on you their values or violate your conscience.

  5. A conflict reveals a clash of values or a hierarchy of values. Be slow to judge and quick to check the operating values. Above all, be sensitive and respectful of the meaningful values guiding others’ judgments and decisions.

  6. In conflict, consider that you might have a life script[iii] or an element of your meaning of life that is operating out of awareness. The hidden script can hide dark forces that are programmed to draw in and engage others to fulfill a meaningless and gloomy psychological motive. Leverage a meaningful purpose psychology practitioner to help you discover your drives and the psychological scripts they betray or reveal.

  7. Be aware of the role that values play when making attributions about self and others. What are the standards you use to judge or evaluate people and situations? Are they meaningful and edifying or self-centered and self-serving?


Summary: Values in Meaning: Our Guiding Compass

Values reveal a person's principles or standards of behavior. Moreover, values are natural, social, and personal omnipresent principles that dictate behavior and exact consequences – positive or negative. There is value in examining, validating, and aligning our values to generate internal and external harmony and well-being. Such examination through a competent MP practitioner can do wonders because it keeps us aware of the operating standards and their meaningfulness, minimizing the odds of conflict. Following validated and reliable values contribute to human thriving.


Values, defined by Frankl as “universal meaning,” under normal circumstances provide useful guidelines toward meaning.

~ Joseph B. Fabry ~


[i] This is based on universal deontological principles, which suggest the existence of universal principles that apply to all individuals in similar situations. These principles are not contingent on specific consequences. Immanuel Kant labeled them as categorical imperatives, where the principle states that individuals should act according to maxims that could be consistently willed as a universal law.

[ii] introjections involve attitudes, behaviors, emotions, and perceptions that are usually obtained from influential or authoritative people in one’s life. They are neither digested nor analyzed; they are adopted as a part of one’s personality as concepts that one considers should be believed or behaviors that one thinks ought to be followed. (www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/introjection)

[iii] The concept of "Life Script" is a fundamental idea within Transactional Analysis that refers to the unconscious life plan or narrative that individuals develop in early childhood. The Life Script influences a person's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors throughout their life, often shaping their patterns of relating to others and making life choices. I recommend “Scripts People Live: Transactional Analysis of Life Scripts” by Claude Steiner (1994)


Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose: Discovering Life's Answers. ™


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