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In Search Of Value

29 January 2009 3 Comments

As a kid I was fascinated with a weekly radio show called Desert Island Discs where a guest was invited to select 8 pieces of music to have with them if they were stranded on a desert island. They could add one luxury item and one book, excluding the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare (which apparently all desert islands already have).

The idea of choosing from the vast array available (in this case music) somehow appealed to me. How to condense all those bits of music I love into a list of only 8? To say nothing of the greater challenge of picking one luxury! The idea stuck, and I find myself regularly compiling Top 10 lists – albums, films, books and, more recently, blogs (no! I’m not going to name them!). It has a practical use too. What better way to get to know someone when in the early stages of a relationship than exchanging Top 10 lists?

Desert Island Disc Game

In the spirit of Desert Island Discs I have a short game for you.

Part 1 Imagine that everything of value to you was about to suddenly disappear. You can select 3 possessions to save from the disaster … write them down before reading more.

What is on your list?

House? Car? Computer? iPod/iPhone? Jewellery? Maybe there were some things that can’t be replaced because of some emotional attachment? Childhood teddy bear? Letter from a lover? Gift made specially for you? Picture drawn by one of your kids? Photograph?

Part 2 Now imagine that everything and everyone of value was about to disappear. You can still save three of them in total, either things and/or people. You don’t have to write them down, but if you do, just make sure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands!

Tough game?

How many objects were on your second list? I’ll stick my neck out and venture a guess that, for 99% of you, there were 3 people on the list and not one object. It’s possible you didn’t do Part 2 because the thought of choosing 3 people to save was just too hard, painful or seemed pointless.

To the other 1%  … I just don’t know what to say to you. Sorry!

What is value?

My own definition is that something has ‘value’ to me when it contributes to my well-being or serves my life in some way. When something sustains me (food, water, air, warmth) it has value. When something meets my ‘higher level’ needs (care, love, companionship, belonging, growth, meaning, beauty, freedom etc.) it has value.

Objects contribute to my life in limited ways and are mainly luxuries, rarely giving me the essentials of life beyond what I need to survive. People, on the other hand, contribute to my life in a far richer, deeper and more flexible way. People adapt to the moment and respond to the ever changing ebb and flow of what I need for my well- being. The people in my life will always have greater value than any inanimate object.

Turning it around, I’m also constantly searching for where I can best contribute to the lives of the people around me. I don’t always succeed but this is where my own value lies as a human being.

How is this reflected in our society? Do we collectively treat people as more valuable than objects?

Value in society

When I walk down the high street, open a magazine, surf the internet or turn on the TV I get a very different picture of how we collectively view value. In our society, it seems to me that value is associated with a number and a unit of currency. The higher the number, the more ‘value’ it has. Bigger numbers get attached to well known brands, objects that are bigger, faster, newer, sleeker or shinier, things with lots of buttons and flashing lights or things to make you look more like a supermodel or top athlete. We’re always on the look out for a ‘bargain’, which translated, means handing over a smaller number than the number printed on the packaging.

I think the great confidence trick of the 20th century was to persuade us that value is quantitative not qualitative – that it can largely be measured by a number. We’ve allowed ourselves to be seduced into thinking we need certain things to be full and complete human beings. We’ve developed the habit of buying stuff without deeply questioning how those things contribute to our well-being. We’ve accepted that we have to chase money to allow us to buy all this stuff and then get trapped in the ‘rat race’ to maintain it. We’re brought up to believe that the price we pay for our lifestyle is substantial time away from our families and friends working for the very businesses that are driving all this.

I’m not anti-materialism at all. Many of the things around me contribute to my life. They make it easier, allow me to connect and travel across great distances, bring beauty and functionality to my life and some are plain fun. I just despair that we’ve got all mixed up as a society and lost sight of what is essential, important and valuable.

Money and business are the root of all …

In fact, I don’t think money is the root at all. Money’s just a number, a tool. How could it possibly be responsible for anything? I have no doubt the idea of money is one of mankind’s great inventions. It’s enabled us to transform our world through the infinite exchangeability of goods and services. It’s impossible to imagine how we could function effectively without it. Barter trade? I don’t think so!

I don’t think business is the root either. It’s a superb way to organise ourselves to do things we couldn’t possibly do on our own. The Corporate World, harnessing our personal capacities, utilising money, harvesting the Earth’s resources and competing in the market economy, has made huge advancements in so many areas of our lives.

Where did it get off track?

We’ve turned money and business, two of the greatest means invented, into ends in themselves. We’ve got lost by acting as though the purpose of business is to make profit and forgotten that it’s true purpose is to serve life and enhance our well-being. We’ve got greedy and unbalanced in a search for profit and lost sight of the search for value.

Ask any employee who they work for and they’ll have no problem giving you the name of the company and probably what it does. Try telling them instead that the company works for them and serves them. Try telling them it’s purpose is not to make money but to enhance the well-being of mankind. What reaction do you get?

How to move to a value centred society

I honestly have no idea what a value centred society would look like. I do know that people will be valued above objects, that we’ll measure value qualitatively as well as quantitatively. I do know that I’ll feel proud to be part of such a society and willing to give much more of myself to its advancement.

I’m clear I can’t change the world, not overnight anyway. And probably not single-handedly, no matter how much I’d like to believe so! There are some steps I can take in my day to day life.

In the search for receiving value

  • Pay constant attention to my well-being by noticing the signals given by my thoughts, my feelings, my body, my intuition.
  • Develop a range of possibilities to meet my needs as they arise and making conscious choices what to do about it
  • Look after those relationships that are important to me
  • Use money as an enabler, a means of exchange to help manage the complexity of choice
  • Use money as feedback when my life has been served
  • Shield myself from the mass media
  • Look after myself from an energy of care and love rather than fear.

In the search for giving value

  • Constantly ask myself how what I’m doing is adding value, and to whom?
  • Seek and listen to feedback (for example, if you have any reactions to this article please consider leaving a comment, recommending it to friends, giving me money – directly or indirectly is fine :-) )
  • Encourage others to get clarity for themselves about these things
  • Share my experiences, methods and skills that can make a difference.

For society to rediscover what we know about value on an individual level, enough of us need to rediscover it for ourselves. We can change how we use money, change what we pursue, recognise the value in people and not allow ourselves to be fooled that objects and money are more important than human beings.

This article is my contribution to a group writing project initiated by Jeremy Day at Insight Writer on the topic of ‘Creating Value’. See the complete list of articles here.


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