After facilitating a workshop with a group of bright sparks preparing to be our country’s future leaders, it occurred to me that we sometimes over-intellectualise certain topics and end up missing the point without grasping the essence.

When interacting with youth who are not only motivated and passionate, but also book-smart and hungry for more knowledge, it is important that we approach them with caution. So that we can support them effectively in their exponential growth process.

When we got to the part of the leadership workshop where we talked about values and ethics, it was here that I became aware of a confusion caused by how we translate the word “Value”. There appeared to be a lack of understanding between:

  • Value (noun) – a quality/ideal that is accepted by an individual or group; and
  • Value (verb) – determine value of or assign value to. What one holds dear to their heart.

Defining

For me, values are those traits that one cannot escape in shaping the characteristics that make you who you are. They inform the fabric of your ethics and quality of person you are. They can be described by words such as love and integrity. And virtues such as justice or charity. They are a universal code of standards for our lives, informed by our background, culture and beliefs. They should be the moral compass that we use to guide us on our way through life.

While discussing the topic in smaller work groups, it was at this point that one of the group members exclaimed, “Guys, are values negotiable?”. I found it intriguing to hear that the majority of the group responded by saying that they are. They further contextualised their answers by adding that this would especially be so when entering into a new environment – for instance a new job. I was perplexed and perturbed at the same time. I could not see how they could come to this conclusion.

In another discussion about the topic we were told by one of the participants that values change in different circumstances according to each situation. For instance, if you value life and are held at gun-point by a thief, would fighting for your life at the detriment of taking the other’s life mean in this instance that you value life any less? A tricky one to articulate but not a tricky one to understand in my mind. Take for example the Buddhist culture and their beliefs with respect to life and reincarnation. Then take the time to read and witness how the people live their beliefs in their everyday lives.

Integrating

As we continued to discuss this, I found myself thinking that this is what I believe to be one of the greatest challenges in our society today. We spend so much time justifying our actions by creating context where we deem appropriate. But does the end really justify the means? We try to negotiate everything to suit and feed our self-image. We manoeuvre our way through important things in our life in a manner that protects our ego to make sure that we are always right or morally safe. In our minds at least. But the thing is, I believe that some topics are either black or white – with no room or space in between for any grey whatsoever.

Values, for me, are represented as those qualities and virtues that we strive to live and embody consistently throughout our life. These are non-negotiable. we cannot function in an environment where the company’s values are not aligned with our own. Take my word on this one. I have tried and failed dismally after attempting to fight the contradiction that I was living in. It can be very subtle but it is there and it is important that we recognise and take note of it. The people in the company are representative of the values and principles that it upholds. It literally became a living nightmare for me trying to bring the two worlds together, let alone doing my best to feel at peace with(in) them.

Correspondence in society

I believe that one of the greatest challenges we face in our society today is as George Orwell voiced in Animal Farm, that “some are more equal than others”. We are living in a time where bending the rules is ok for some, but not for all. We see it manifest in the rise of corruption and our further growing divide between rich and poor. We live in a time where leaders get away with murder because the end justifies their means. We are living in a time where we are beginning to experience the suffering caused by a lack of decisive leadership.

Sometimes I think we just need to simplify and go back to basics. We are all imperfect beings doing our best to live in this imperfect world. All we can do is give our best and unapologetically live our truth. We can’t shy away from what is not popular but feels right inside. As long as we are able to sleep peacefully at night, no matter which area in our life we are dealing with, then we will know that we are on the right track. Some things are simply NOT negotiable in my eyes – finish and klaar.