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Telling It Like It Is - Values in Conflict


Sometimes when I sit to write a blog I think "Whew, where do I even begin?" This is one of those topics that could be discussed for hours and hours. But it's SO important that it's definitely worth talking about.

The famous author and preeminent thinker of our generation, Edward de Bono said, “Almost any thinking and almost any action has an important value component. It is impossible to ignore values. Every decision we make involves values. Logic can help you decide how to do something but logic cannot tell you what you want to do”

This is true for conflict and I think it's a fair statement to say that many conflicts today occur because of a simple clash of values. What does that even mean? Well, I want you to think about what your values are ... really think about them. Don't just fall into the trap of saying the generic things; family, friends, hard work, integrity etc. What do you go out of your way to achieve or avoid? What pushes your buttons badly? Often our values emerge only when they are confronted, like when someone pushes our buttons.

Values Continuum

Sometimes our values don't match up, or line up, very well with those of other people or even the organisation for which we work. This is called a "Values Dilemma" and it is very common. A good example of this would be if I was to be contacted to conduct training for a cigarette manufacturing company. This would clearly clash with my values and I would have to ask myself what are the stronger values at play ... the need to stick to my guns about the damage smoking does to a person's health and cigarettes have done to society in general versus the need to work and put food on the table for my family.

When your values are similar to, or even the same as, another person or an organisation, we call this "Values Alignment". It isn't rare that this happens, but it is rare that they are perfectly aligned.

It is when values need to be reconciled that the hard work is done. Sometimes we have to reconcile our values ... in other words, we have to compromise in some way in order to maintain harmony. If, for example, I need the contract with the cigarette manufacturer to pay my bills, I can tell myself that there is a greater good being done and I might have to overlook the general disagreement I have with manufacturers of cigarettes. If I'm not in a desperate need to find work, I might turn down this contract in favour of one whose values are closer aligned.

I was teaching at a school to an audience of about 80 teachers and support staff. We were having a discussion about values when one lady raised her hand and explained their values conundrum. She said the school had asked staff to volunteer to stay back for one or two hours a couple of times per week to assist with preparations for the school's entry in the regional eisteddfod competition. She lamented that only a handful of teachers were actually staying back and she felt that it was unfair that those who were staying were lumped with all the work. She then said, "The school gives us employment, which allows us to pay our bills and live. I think it's only right that we should help out the school every now and then when they ask." This is a clear demonstration of that woman's values.

Several other hands were then quickly raised and another woman replied with this statement. "I'm a single mother. I get up, make my kids their school lunches and drive them to school before coming here. I get paid for working the hours I'm here and I work hard when I'm here. But when I clock off I have to race to pick up my kids and drive them to their various sports training venues and then go home to make their dinner and help with their homework. I simply don't have time to stay after school." This is also a clear statement about values ... the value of her family.

So here's a classic case of a clash in values. Who is right in this scenario? Is it possible that both could be right? Yes, it is. This is a classic case of values being the reason for conflict, even when the values expressed are OK.

So What Do We Do?

First, we have to understand that it is human nature for us to want others to share our values. These are so important to us that it's hard to believe that someone else doesn't share them. And we become confronted when they don't. Then we have to give ourselves permission to work for our values regardless if anyone else does. We have to be satisfied with the work we're doing on behalf of those values and let others work for their own values. Be proud of yourself if you commit energy towards your values ... that's the point of having them!! Go ahead, pat yourself on the back. But don't expect others to share your values or commit their energy towards them.

I had a sad discussion on Facebook recently. A Facebook "friend", (someone I have never met) with whom I have connected because of our martial arts interests, posted a short story about how he "honoured" his wife by offering to fight a male who had insulted her. He offered to drive to the male's State (in the US) and have it out with him. He posted that he was not at all surprised when the male declined because he knew that male didn't have the guts to fight him.

I challenged this person, suggesting that this was not the warrior’s way and that surely he would not advocate this behaviour to his students in the playground at school every time they were insulted. His response … “Oh no, I only offered to fight him because I knew he wouldn’t have the balls to fight.”

Can you see the distorted values at work here? On the one hand there is the code of bushido and the martial arts spirit of humility and discipline. On the other hand there is the strong desire to be seen as strong and brave in the defence of his wife’s honour. The saddest thing about this story was the amount of support he received from others for taking the action he took in challenging this guy to fisticuffs and the venom with which they fuelled a potential “punch-on”.

We Are Animals After All

If you are a person that values good, mature, balanced thinking you should immediately see the devolution taking place in this scenario. You probably get the sense, like I do, that humans are often devolving into the most primitive version of themselves and are doing so purely out of a lack of the will power to reflect on whether these types of behaviour truly represent the best they can be and are true representations of their values. Maybe you know of examples like this too, or have thoughts that I can ponder on the subject.

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