I recently attended the local Red Cross's fund-raising dinner, during which a 50-50 raffle was conducted. A young waiter won the $300 cash prize but immediately returned the money to the Red Cross with the comment, “You need this more than I do.” After a standing ovation, several people commented about his values of charity and giving. I heard one person say, “That boy has some good values,” and this got me to wondering if we ever stop to examine just what this kind of statement really means. What are values?
There is no one correct definition, but the one I like best defines values as "those qualities of behavior, thought, and character that society regards as being intrinsically good, having desirable results, and worthy of emulation by others." Arguably, the following might fit this definition: honesty, courage, loyalty, justice, independence, hard work, self reliance, honor, dignity, doing the right thing, moral integrity, nonviolence, faith, tradition, quality, customer service, excellence, charity, thrift, openness, candor, empathy, self accountability, diversity, chivalry and activism, to cite just some. Many of these values interact with one another. For example, nonviolent activism to achieve social justice is, I submit, a courageous and noble endeavor, and I know for certain that down South, chivalry is an honorable and enduring tradition worthy of emulation.
In and of themselves, values are pretty meaningless unless they are played out by behavior. Politicians often proclaim the value of courage and then quickly waffle on an issue. The measure of leaders is often marked by their value-based behavior. Anwar Sadat of Egypt demonstrated the ultimate value of courage when he reached out in peace to Israel knowing full well it would likely cost him his life. When Malcolm X broke from the mainstream Black Muslims, he too assumed tremendous risks based on a religious epiphany and based on his core values to do the right thing. The Rev. Billy Graham personifies his faith-based values in every facet of his life, and who can doubt the motives of Jimmy Carter as he continues to work for peace.
Getting back to that young waiter at the Red Jacket, he indeed demonstrated some "good values," and I suspect he learned them from his parents or a teacher or maybe his boss. And, from time to time, a little self-reflection and inventory could be a useful endeavor. Ask yourself: “What are my core values? Are they worthy of emulation? Are they admirable qualities? Do I practice what I preach?”
Ted Sares, PhD, is a private investor who lives and writes in the White Mountain area of Northern New Hampshire with his wife Holly and Min Pin Jackdog. He writes a weekly column for a local newspaper.