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?

Free Email Course

Meditations email modal

Sign up today for our free email course on The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. You'll receive weekly emails with my commentary on this classic Stoic text.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

Join the conversation

24 Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    1. 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.

  9. Honesty
    Bravery

    I’d write history books for kids if knew I could not fail in my undertakings.

    1. 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.