scrabble letters spelling "chaos" - rethinking values in an uncertain world

Do you have a set of values you live by? As participants in our programmes will know, connecting to our personal guiding values is a foundation of our work, as we support teams and individuals to explore, deepen and strengthen new ways of living and leading.

But let’s get real for a moment.

It’s easy to allow concepts like “values” to be relegated to a compartment in our lives marked “development” or “who we’d love to be”.

How do our values really make a difference, in a world where so much feels uncertain and quite frankly, bewildering?

Our challenge is to bring tools like values alive – and to understand the vital role they can play.

What if our values could guide our ability to respond to the rapidly changing, sometimes terrifying, and always surprising world we live in?

How values can anchor us through unexpected storms

In times of chaos and uncertainty, connecting to your values can be a powerful way to steady, ground, and guide our thoughts, words and actions.

In today’s hyper-connected world, all of us are exposed to huge quantities of data each day. Along with information about facts and events, we’re surrounded by innumerable analyses, narratives, opinions and conclusions calling us to think, feel and take action. It’s very common to feel uncertain and unbalanced by what we’re absorbing – or to experience the paradox of both complex emotions that require time and space to process, and a sense of pressure to respond to what’s occurring without delay.

It’s in times of change like these – whether in the wider global context, or within your family, team or organisation – that understanding what you value most can signpost you to actions aligned with your purpose and identity, even as you’re faced with events far beyond your control.

Rethinking values in an uncertain world

Values can be a valuable source of clarity in a fast-paced world that can feel as though it demands our immediate response.

As a colleague reminded us in a recent conversation – values are meant to be “lived, not laminated.”

When we treat values as static concepts, for example as a workshop or coaching exercise forgotten as soon as we return to our day to day lives, we lose their potential to spark fresh and even unexpected insights. Choosing to bring our values to life, on the other hand, invites us to steer our decision making, relationships, and responses, in sometimes radical ways.

For example, Predica Group, an IT consulting and development group, recently mobilised to transform its office space in Warsaw to welcome refugees from Ukraine. The company’s values of purpose, people and partnership are vividly realised in this bold, practical action.

We also see values steering decisions like that of great Thunberg to refuse the Nordic Council’s environmental award in 2019. She wrote:

“I want to thank the Nordic Council for this award. It is a huge honour.
But the climate movement does not need any more awards. What we need is for our politicians and the people in power start to listen to the current, best available science.”

Choosing to take action based on our values can be costly – in financial terms, and in terms of our prestige and recognition. Our values are, by definition, qualities we place of the highest importance.

What would you be willing to make sacrifices for?

How are you choosing to bring your values to life?

Do our values show us who we are – or who we want to be?

When we ask how we can bring our values into our daily lives, then, we can find ourselves facing our own “edges” as we consider to what extent we’re really living according to our values.

Do your values reflect who you are being right now, today – or are they more of an ideal – an image of the kind of colleague, leader, parent or friend you would love to be?

(In other words – are your values more “aspirations” or “expectations”?)

Being willing to explore and acknowledge the gap between our day to day behaviour and the qualities we aspire to bring to the world can be a powerful way to consider our impact – and inspire bolder action.

If you value simplicity, is it time you set clearer boundaries around what additional projects you’re able to take on – honouring your call to work more spaciously, and focus on fewer tasks with greater depth?

If one of your values is community, are you taking action to connect, support and create with those around you? Where could you be bringing together different people in your network, fostering cohesion and shared experiences?

How to reconnect with your values

So today, we’d like to invite you to dust off those laminated values (if that’s you!) , and play.

Challenge yourself to find the insight contained within them – and to ask yourself what edges they’re currently pointing towards when it comes to bringing them into action in your life.

Here are a few ideas to inspire you to engage differently with your values:

● How alive are your values in your life right now? If 1 is your current reality and 10 is where you’d like to be, where do each of your values currently sit? Are they a mirror of your daily actions, or far-off goals you’re working towards? Do they need to be shifted?

● An interesting way to explore the presence of your values in your life is to reflect on their opposites – what we might think of as “shadow” values. For example, if “community” is one then perhaps “isolation” might be its shadow. How are these shadows present in your life right now? As fears, perhaps, or feelings of shame or failure? What’s your relationship to those shadows, and what can they show you when it comes to expressing your values in their fullest, brightest light?

● If an alien beamed down from space and tracked your every move for the day, what would they conclude you value most? What actions or behaviours would you point to as evidence of your values? Are there any physical ways in which your values are evident during your daily life and work, or are they strictly an intellectual/attitudinal compass? Is it time for that to change?

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