Values Clarification Exercise

Let’s begin by considering your own values very carefully.  We can start now but this process can be hard work, and may take some time, as you work through your thoughts and try to apply your values in daily life.  So think of “values clarification” as an ongoing process and try to reconsider these things each day.  Although it can be challenging at times to question yourself so deeply, this has a reputation for being an exercise many people find extremely enlightening and rewarding.  It’s a modern echo of the Socratic approach to ethics, which centred on the use of rational questioning and reflection, and the attempt to expose and resolve inconsistencies in our thinking.  In the Discourses of Epictetus, we can read transcribed conversations showing him employing a similar “Socratic” method in debate with his students.

In a sense, we’re facing the ultimate question…  What’s the most important thing in life, to you?  What are your deepest values?  Can you actually put them into words and clarify them in your own mind?  When they’re clear in your mind, your deepest values can give you a sense of direction and help to define your personal philosophy.  However, if you’re unclear or confused about them, then you may potentially feel quite lost and frustrated.  It’s within your power to gain further clarity, through your own reflections, and discussions with others, though.  So how much time have you spent recently exploring your own conception of the most important things in life?  How much time each day do you spend living in accord with these values?  Where are you heading?  What sort of person are you becoming and what direction is your life taking?

To what use then am I putting my own soul?  Never fail to ask yourself this question and to cross-examine yourself thus: “What am I making of this part of me they call the ‘central faculty’ of the mind?  And whose soul do I have now anyway?  The soul of a child?  Of a youth? […] Of a tyrant?  Of a grazing animal?  Of a wild beast? Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.11

[q_question title=”Direct Questions” text=”Try using the following questions now to clarify your core values and conception of virtue…”]

  • What’s ultimately the most important thing in life to you?
  • What do you want your life to “stand for” or “be about”?
  • What would you most like your life to be remembered for after you’ve died?
  • What sort of thing do you most want to spend your life doing?
  • What sort of person do you most want to be in your various relationships and roles in life, e.g., as a parent, a friend, at work, and in life generally?

You should keep returning to these very fundamental questions.  Perhaps even talk to your friends about them, if possible.  If you’re ready, the next page contains many more questions, to help you take your philosophical self-examination further…

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  1. I just noticed that my previous post mentions ‘time’ twice. My top value is love, whether of people, the natural world, or the divine – and love embodies goodness, joy, beauty, duty, discipline and probably other things. I think the reason ‘time’ is in the equation is that our lives in this particular incarnation are a not even a blink in the scheme of things so living fully is a value of mine, ‘waking up’ in other words. Living fully means not wasting time and energy on what can’t be helped – ie stoic values.

  2. I find the idea of aligning behaviour to values very powerful. If I value spending time usefully, then drifting around facebook automatically becomes less attractive. If I value friendship, I need to factor time in to spend with people I care about. Stating the values explicitly really helps. Might even pin them up in the kitchen when I get home.

  3. Avoiding Poison Sumac. (Just kidding. I spent the previous week battling a sever case of poison Sumac which delayed from completing week 2. Playing catch up now…

    The most important thing in life to me me is living a contented and happy life.
    I want my life to stand for spreading a secular world view that self updates based on new information.
    I would like to be remembered as a person who was always striving to improve myself and others.
    I would like to spend my life trying to maximize my full potential.
    I would like to be the sort of person that remains centered, calm and present in all my relationships.

  4. These are difficult questions. I’m not sure I have the answers yet, but two words always seem to consistently come up in my reflections: knowledge and stability.