More Values Clarification

The following questions are more indirect.  That means some of them may not make sense to you or may not be helpful, whereas others will hit the nail on the head.  So you may be selective about which ones seem most appropriate to spend time considering right now.  If you don’t have time, write down six key questions from this list, or bookmark this page on the Internet.  You can come back to these questions and spend time really contemplating one of them in depth each day, if you want…

Modelling Questions

  • Think in general terms of the types of people you admire.  What qualities make them admirable?
  • Think of three specific people, real or fictional, that you admire.  What qualities make them admirable?
  • Try to imagine the ideal Stoic Sage, someone perfectly wise and good.  What virtues would they possess?

Chain Questions
Pick some examples of things you currently spend your time voluntarily doing, such as visiting friends, or going to work, etc.  Ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve by doing those things?  For the “sake of what” do you do them?  Keep repeating this question and probing further in the direction of your underlying values.  You may find this sheds light on your priorities in life.  Alternatively, it may lead you to question the importance of some of the things you’re actually doing.  (Aristotle described a similar technique.)

Perspective-Shifting Questions

  • If you knew for certain that you only had one month left to live, how would you want to spend the remaining time before you die?
  • If you didn’t have to contend with anxiety, or other uncomfortable feelings, what would you choose to spend your time doing?
  • What would you choose to spend your life doing, if you were free to do anything, and if you knew you couldn’t fail and were always guaranteed to succeed?
  • If you had one opportunity to give advice to your child about life, what would you tell them is most important?

Additional Questions for Reflection

  • What do your answers to these questions tell you about your core values in life?
  • What do they tell you about the type of person you might want to be or the virtues you’d like to possess?
  • How do the virtues compare to each other?
  • Which, if any, is most important?
  • Fundamentally, is there just one, or are there many virtues?

These questions may seem overwhelming to some people.  Just be patient and reflect on one at a time, if that’s easier.  Keep your purpose in mind, though, and look for other ways you can help yourself.  How else could you really clarify your core values and conception of virtue?

25 replies on “More Values Clarification”

This is such a wonderful thought. The past has such ambiguity in Stoicism. We are to live in the moment, but without the past, without history, what are we? What are our children to become? The past is so import to us, and to our children, that it always has to be emphasized at some point, somehow. Where does it fit in? But being the one to have that specific thought in regard to the future safety of the next generation is something yet more special.

Perhaps I lack imagination, but when I think of finding out that I only had a month to live, no particular actions come to mind other that making sure my legal affairs are in order, saying goodbye to a few people, and studying my reactions to this news as I study my reactions to everything else in my life. I don’t have a bucket list of things like “see Machu Picchu” or “parachute out of an airplane”. Things like that which I’ve thought that I want to do, I’ve done. There isn’t a list of tasks postponed. So I would spend that month with my wife, day to day, much as we do now. We might decide on a trip or some other new activity just like we would without a known deadline, but I don’t think I would feel some great urgency to get something special done in that month. After all, I am going to die on some day and it could be a month from now. I know that. So knowing it was this month doesn’t really make much difference.

Same here! You articulated better than I could, but the same type of thoughts enter my mind even after analyzing. I think in a sense, I’ve already accepted the fact that my death can happen at any time, so maybe I am already living this mindset? The typical ‘bucket list’ just really isn’t that appealing to me… But the exercise itself isn’t bad, because ultimately reminding ourselves of our mortality once in a while is probably a good thing.

But that doesn’t block out the goal of coming to the point. These questions certainly are a bit more challenging than those on the previous page, but they are a bit more clarifying, as well. The desire to be a more honest and direct person, and to be able to pass that message on to your children, is so strong at the end, to be able to tell them not to be sold the lie that lying at times is good and necessary. That is such a trap. To be able to tell them that being more engaged with others, strangers, is more important than they may be told.

I think i would want to have no regrets for my actions in life, if i have one more month to live, and spend it with people who close to me.

Ultimately, I’ve always thought about justice as my goal, in the sense that everything that happens to a person should be as he deserves. Those who work to attain a goal should have their rewards and those who do not and who do the opposite should be punished. I’ve been quite distressed to see, over the course of my life, that this is exactly the opposite to what actually happens. Most people who deserve their rewards either don’t get them or are even punished, while those who do not deserve their rewards and who ought to be punished for their behavior are instead rewarded for bad behavior. So instead of observing justice in life, I’ve observed injustice. This tells me that life isn’t fair, and if we want it to be fair, it is man that must make it so. It is not a natural property, but an invention of the human mind made for human civilization. Therefore, I’ve always admired people like Socrates, who strove to further justice and who wasn’t dissuaded by the public, even at the cost of his life. In that sense, he was courageous and he had the wisdom and self-discipline to carry it out. This is what I want to further in my life– fairness for myself and whoever I meet that deserves it, within the limits of my power.

This is exactly why I left justice of my list! Justice doesn’t exist in nature, it barely even exists in man. There is nothing just about a 5 year old kid who gets killed from cancer. There’s nothing just about the cow I indirectly killed to fill my stomach. It just is the way things are. I think striving for justice is good, but I struggle to quantify it as a virtue that I continually strive for, because It would eventually drive me mad.

It may help you to remember that this exercise is about defining your values in terms of the quality of your own actions, not in terms of external outcomes. You can be driven mad only if you prize the outcome of your actions more than your actions themselves.

I’m trying to clarify this by imagining what kind of people I want to live around, what are their character traits? So I came up with friendliness, kindness, intelligence, cooperation, wisdom, humor, skill. So I think those are the values and excellent character traits I want to develop.

Wisdom, courage, creativity, giving and gratitude.

I’m finding overlap and interrelationships between them. They build on each other. And I find, looking back, that when I thought I was lacking one that I may actually have been lacking another. For example, some cases that I’ve considered aso a lack of courage look more like a lack of wisdom on further reflection.

Obviously, this is not a short-term exercise for anyone. Considering those questions about why we do voluntary things? That will take a while, if answered fully and honestly. My examples in life have always been people who have made great sacrifices for others, like Albert Schweitzer, perhaps only because no one like that existed in my real world and I could never imagine that for myself. It literally always made me cry as a child when I imagined his life and the lives of people like him. So, I always modeled “heroism” and “altruism” after people like that, and considered them the “sages” long before I read real philosophy. If I had a month to live, now, I too would have no bucket list. Looking forward to new adventures is so risky an endeavor, so comical an exercise. Rather, I’d want to revisit something I knew and loved, like walking the city streets of New York or San Francisco again, even though I know they’ve changed so much, I know many of them are also still the same as I walked so many years ago.

Lol, I just replied to another one of your comments (I swear this a coincidence and I’m not stalking you)… I struggle with accepting that altruism is a good virtue. Not that you shouldn’t help others out, but I’t doesn’t need to be justified with a blanket virtue of altruism. Especially mixing altruism with stoicism, it seems like a recipe for someone who gets taken advantaged of. As long as you remain virtuous I don’t think there is any concern for wicked selfishness in the absence of altruism as a core personal virtue.

People with altruism listed as one of their core values seem far more susceptible to be virtue signaled into a cause or action that may not be the best solution long term, but it sounds good. Whereas someone who isn’t susceptible to the altruism shaming, may find it easier to understand the long term detriments of a seemingly benefit. Socialism, price controls, corrupt charities, enabling addicts, etc, etc. The path to hell is paved in good intentions, and altruism seems to be the common rally cry.

I hope you continue in your struggle, my friend, it is a good fight to fight. But this isn’t a political battle. You can say what you want about hell and the way other people react or live their own lives, none of those things matter to me, however much they may mean to you. What matters to me is the value of a life lived in part in service to others.
I’ve seen it and lived both ways. I don’t want to live a cutthroat life, wallowing in the dirt like an animal. Let other men do that if they think that’s what nature calls them to do. It’s their ignorance calling them, not nature. I am a human being, and it is my free will that calls me to act. I would rather care for animals than wallow with them. And when I stray it is my own lack of will that fails me, my own weakness, nothing more.

If it means anything: I was once given a short life sentence, failing a surgery. I spent the time giving my wife all the keys to the kingdom: passwords, bank and insurance statements. I also drafted a living will. That was in 2010; I have a marvelous mechanical heart valve that you can hear 6 feet away. Mynlesson: plan your death today; then live!

I am on the verge of hitting seventy. I have grandchildren and one expecting a baby. Yet I’ve only recently come to terms with not being sixteen any longer. (Sue me, if you can find a lawyer). Still, this has not been an obstacle to growth, only an obstacle to a change in what some might call natural desires. I had to concede this last night while discussing with my wife the post I made about perhaps wanting to spend my last month walking the streets of San Francisco. She reminded me that, while in Nashville recently, I had to spend a miserable half-hour wandering those polluted avenues. That maybe, attempting to re-experience the past might ruin it. And that our previous conversations on the subject had led us both to conclude that life as it was today was preferable to anything the past or the future might hold. Simply being who we are, and continuing that, even if we only had a few days to spend together, was preferable to anything else we could conceive. Perhaps it is a weakness of mine that I still depend on my partner in life to help clarify things for me. So be it, even if I only had a month to live. But then I remembered the first time I read The Meditations (now called The Emperor’s Handbook in the Hicks’ translation), and that entire first section where Marcus attributed virtually everything he knew and valued in life to others. Where would we be in life without the people we love, value and respect?

Asnen: “Where would we be in life without the people we love, value and respect?”
But not everybody needs that, to be with people, to depend on others. Isn’t the detachment of Stoicism also strength – the strength of not depending on others for one’s happiness or fulfilment.

Some Initial thoughts:

I have the virtue of integrity and self-discipline running through most questions, and courage, kindness, and sacrificing oneself also appear a few times.

People that I admire also seem to have some of these virtues including James Stockdale, Eric Liddell (for those that don’t know him please watch the film ‘Chariots of Fire’ or read his biography), Churchill, Ghandi. Even those people who sacrifice/d them selves going to War.

I tend to spend most of my time reading and meditating, but my wife tells me I don’t spend enough time with her.

If I had one month left to live I would want to gather young people together and try and tell them about my life, what I have been through, what I have learn’t and try to pass this onto them.

If I knew I wouldn’t fail at anything I would like to teach, write books, also build a house from scratch.

If i had one opportunity to tell my child anything I would say “don’t ever tell yourself you can’t do it”.

If i was free from anxiety and uncomfortable feelings I would probably speak my mind more, stand up for my self, tell people what I believe is right or wrong, and generally be more sociable.

I find the Ideal stoic sage a strange questions because surely if he was the ideal Stoic sage wouldn’t they possess all the virtues know to man?

if I am honest thinking about having these virtues scares me. So, in that case, maybe I need to develop my courage and integrity. As these would help me to stand up for who I am and what I stand for.

I think Integrity is the most important virtue. This is because you can say you are virtuous but if you don’t practice or stick by them you won’t have integrity. For example, you might say I love my family and will them before anything, but if it came down to it the, to have integrity, you would follow through and it would be integrity that would see you through.

Since I know that I could die even in the next minute I am trying to accept this matter of fact in order “to go” with ease anytime. Hopefully this will also help my family and friends in overcoming my death.
As I mentioned I am still working on it! 😉
The more I’m moving forward in this direction the more I am enjoying to be alive and I am trying to express my love to the people I love – now – because tomorrow could be too late.
So maybe my core values are : acceptance of transience and love
What I would like to further develop: serenety and humor

Here’s what I wrote to myself for the last 3 questions:

How do the virtues compare to each other?

Which specific virtues are we talking about? To keep things simple, let’s just look at the four main ones: wisdom, justice, temperance, and courage. I think wisdom is probably the most important virtue of the four, because it probably requires some measure of wisdom to be able to practice justice, temperance, and courage. Justice clearly involves our relations with others (and perhaps even with the rest of nature). Temperance largely seems to involve our relationship with ourselves (and occasionally with others). Courage could apply to just ourselves but probably usually involves others. Can one be wise without being courageous? I think there are situations where one could exercise wisdom without needing to exercise much courage, but if you look at an entire human life, there will be many times when courage is called for, and to make the wise choice will require courage, and to not be courageous would also be unwise. The same would seem to me to be true for temperance and justice.

I’m trying to think of a metaphor. One idea is that these four virtues are like a network or mesh, and they reinforce each other, and the more of them you have, the stronger the network or mesh is. But I’d also like a metaphor that stresses the primacy of wisdom. Perhaps they’re like a four-corded rope, where wisdom is the strongest cord, but that the other three also add to the strength of the full rope. Without wisdom, the rope is weak but at least still somewhat useful. With wisdom and the other three cords (virtues), the rope is virtually unbreakable. (It doesn’t feel like a perfect metaphor, but for now it’ll do.)

Which, if any, is most important?

I guess I already answered this: wisdom seems to me to be the most important virtue.

Fundamentally, is there just one, or are there many virtues?

I’m not ready to say that there is only one virtue. However (trying to think metaphorically again, and as I’m writing this while listening to some classical music), maybe capital-V “Virtue” is like a great piece of music produced by an orchestra: it is a performance or event produced when many different instruments play one composition together in a harmonious manner. Each instrument (lowercase-v virtue) is called upon at different times, and at different strengths, and sometimes sits quietly while other virtues are more prominent, but the important thing is the end result: the full performance, the life well-lived, capital-v Virtue.

Brilliant thanks! I was on the last question and it was hurting my head. Presence came up as a theme throughout. Listening to classical music while going through all these questions so your answer was just what I needed to point to my answer. Think your Wisdom is my Presence.

smithchuck highlights Wisdom as the supreme virtue and I would tend to agree with this thinking. In another forum I debated with another “attendee” of ours that wisdom was something we were on track to obtain, that we never stopped on the road to acquiring it, and that the process could, if one chooses, be called, “maturing.” He ruptured. He could not tolerate the word for a moment. He disagreed with the whole concept of “maturity” as if it were filth, an inhibition to his very independence and manhood. And then I noticed in my re-reading of the text that at most turns, with every choice, Dr. Robertson also carefully avoided, given the open opportunity, to choose the word, “maturity,” in its various forms, when discussing Wisdom or anything else in regard to this section of our Seminar. I am taken aback. Once, when I was much, much younger, I too had second (and third) thoughts about the value of maturity. I saw all around me how “mature” people were screwing up the world (and they still are, of course) as well as their own lives and said to myself, may I never grow up (Long Live Peter Pan!). But there is no Wisdom in such thinking, is there? And real growth, real maturity, real Wisdom (even real wisdom) is obtained, over time, when you see that age and “maturity” are not coequal (among other things).
And so I agree that Wisdom, insofar as it is acquired through maturity, is supreme, and that it is the basis for the sense of Justice, Temperance, and true Courage. But, also, since it is based on maturity, and we never stop growing, and wisdom is endless, none of these has an end. The mythical “superior” person or Sage is only the one who has gone furthest, not the one who has reached some goal. What possible goal can there be? Can we be more than human? Would we want to be? Having said all that, far be it from me to claim that I am either wise nor mature. Peter Pan is still in the house, I’m afraid.

Perspective Shifting:
* Travel the world with my wife before I die.
* Meditation
* degree in Astro Physics…
* Live life by following you inner compass only.
* I value learning about the world and my inner world.
* These values tell me I want to be a person who pursues knowledge and wisdom of the world and of self.
* They compare to each other in one way. That is the theme of discovery they both have. One is external, the other internal.
* Internal discovery is the most important. Without that all else is askew.
* Just one: wisdom or enlightenement. (Maybe 2? :))

My list of people I admire surprised me slightly – very different individuals in different life circumstances – the qualities they have in common are that they are strong, kind, generous, cheerful, characterful and interested in the world.
For the chain questions – ultimately I’d like to create a better world, where people are happier, more in control of their lives and able to spread love and joy.
If I had a month to live, I’d like to work on my legacy – where could I leave my modest funds for maximum impact. If I wasn’t anxious and was sure of success, I’d write more books. I’d advise a child to learn as much as possible about everything whilst their brain is still young.

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