Values, morals, ethics are the greatest tools to navigate life. However, they are often interchangeably used. So I’ll first discern one from another in this post before I go on to share my values.
What are values?
In simple terms, values are one’s judgement of what’s important in life. So it’s entirely subjective! You might value a degree from the Harvard University. I might not. I might value prolific works on finance and technology. You might not. You might value fine dining. I might not. I might value opinions and feedback from my family. You might not. You might not care about your partner’s spending. I might care. Until my sophomore year, I valued GPAs. Now I don’t. Until last year, I did not give a damn about my digital privacy. Today, I do and it’s likely the battle I will fight for. So you see values are subject to change.
So the thing about values is you can’t really know if your friend is doing something in accordance to or against her personal beliefs unless she tells you what those values are. You can’t judge her by her personal beliefs. But you will, without doubt, judge her for her morals. More on that later.
Example: She could tell you she’ll be on time for a movie date but turn up very late. It neither means she values punctuality nor does it mean she has utter disregard for being on time. Her act of turning up late could make her “uncool” among her friends but not unethical or immoral. The same act in a professional setting could potentially be seen both as immoral and unethical.
You could be a non-vegetarian and still value animal life. Perhaps your choice of eating chicken meat doesn’t bode well with the morals of your majority vegetarian colleagues. It might be against the morals of Animal Welfare societies but, it certainly does not go against legal bodies.
These vignettes highlight that values have different relationships with morals and ethics. There is practically no equivalent word to describe someone going against their own values such as “immoral” and “unethical”. There’s literally nothing that can protect you from the pitfalls of your own values and when you don’t adhere to your values. Which is why it’s highly important to be deliberate on what we regard as our personal beliefs.
So now you know values can be subjective, is not in a steady-state and can go against the society and/or the law. So how do we develop these values? Values are born out of one’s surrounding, family, culture, religion, circumstances, habits and a lot more factors. However, the biggest exception to these definitions is the value of human life. It is hard to say whose life is more valuable (unless you’re playing a game of shipwreck.) Life is an objective reality. That’s why it’s intensely divisive to take a stand on the pro-life and pro-choice debate. That’s why the judiciary doesn’t go with an eye-for-an-eye approach for criminals. There are plenty other examples but I’ll just stop with these.
Okay, so let’s say you have certain personal beliefs- some out of careful deliberation, some that are second hand information, some that came from your religion and some from other sources unbeknownst to you. How do you know that your own values are not going to be your enemy?
What are morals?
Your answer to having better personal beliefs is by sticking to the morals of safe societies. Values are the building blocks of morals. So if you’re able to gel with a group of friends it means you have certain shared values. This is why friendships are windows to some, if not all, values of a person. Friendships are the sure shot ways to see how your personal values relate to the morals of a group or society at large.
Time for some examples. Let’s say performing music is an important part of your life. Your easiest way to augment your values is to associate with groups or societies that place even more emphasis on music than you currently do. You will meet more people who share this passion for music and maybe, you would imbibe their other qualities such as showing up on time for practise, helping every member to bring out their best, giving every member a chance to showcase their skills, being consistent for practise and so on. Each one on its own is a value. In the context of a group, these values become the principle morals to abide by.
Let’s say you love reading comics and that has brought you closer to a group of people sharing the same interest. However, there could be certain values that don’t go well with you. There could be people who are alcoholics and are into illegal substance abuse. You do want to hang out with them but since you’re a teetotaller, you don’t want to imbibe those qualities from them.
The above is a scenario where I have slightly struggled in the past. My personal beliefs have been in conflict with certain values of group-thinking. I learnt that I had a choice to compromise my values and adjust or just not be too serious about these groups. When values are in conflict, there is a low survival rate for any relationship.
Your team’s morals are absolutely important for your long-term commitment to your workplace. Your values will constantly be in conflict with those of the team’s. A person with weak understanding of values can easily get by and may even adapt to these team’s morals. This is why choosing a team is much more important than choosing a company to work for.
Morals are your best safety net. The morals of a collective group of people will prevent you from badly bruising yourself. Peer groups play a huge role to cause or prevent petty crimes snowballing into major ones.
What are ethics?
If you know the difference between the right and the wrong and choose the right, you are a moral person. Almost always, your morality is reflected through your deeds. However, if you choose the right when it’s involves a lot of risk and low incentives for you, you are an ethical person.
Ethics are tacit laws for the well-being and good conduct of everyone. These are implicit stuff that unfortunately need to be taught to people.
Example: You’ve built AWS at Amazon. You have all the strategic and tactical information about their roadmap. Now, you get an offer to build the same product in a competing company for a higher pay. You accept the offer. This is very much unethical and can leave a permanent dent in your resume.
(Companies have non-compete policies to keep this behaviour in check.)
When I switched companies, I made sure I didn’t join a team that is building the same product as the previous one I worked on — even if they gave me interesting incentives to do so.
You are interviewing at a company and they ask you about your recent experience. However, your recent experience is confidential to your current company. You choose to talk about other projects apart from the confidential one. This is an ethical behaviour.
There is so much about ethics that I can’t really cover in one post.
My belief is that when you are vocal about your values, you will attract the right people in life. However, I also realize that this post could come off like virtue signalling. I assure you that although I try my best to uphold these values through my interactions with people, from time to time I fail. I am flawed in my own ways.
Here are a few things that I value:
No matter how banal this could sound, my family is everything to me. They are my invaluable support system. They’ve given me a comfortable life more than I deserve. I cannot stand those who put them down and those who needlessly put their own down. It only goes on to show how they would treat strangers. If you suck at treating your parents well, you will most definitely suck at treating anyone in the right way. I’m so grateful to mine that words can do no justice.
Edit as of 5th Nov 2019: I understand this is insensitive to those from abusive families. I’m sorry if you’ve had a bad childhood/ adulthood.
Men who can take no for an answer
I value and have great admiration for men who can gracefully take NO for an answer. The last resort thinking is a terrible bug in a man’s mind. If you’re keen to not internalise that first NO from your mother, your sister, your colleague, your mentor, your boss, your neighbour, your friend, your wife, your grandmother or just about any human being, at a deeper level, something has gone so wrong with your upbringing. You cannot force anyone into your selfish needs. It shows you don’t respect the other person’s boundaries.
I didn’t come to value this until I was in a situation where a bloke was relentless about falling in love, degrading his self-respect, getting himself butt hurt and finally earning my cruelty.
I value my time. Time is a scarce resource ticking into the future. In my last two decades of futile pursuit of happiness, I have come to realise this — be of real help to someone such that you have zilch to benefit out of helping. This is the only thing that can bring real happiness. Time is so limited so make the most out of it without expectations. Time compounds effects of anything you do in haste. No one better than Shakespeare to drive home the point.
I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.
I value people who have a real hobby. Internet surfing? Sleeping? Texting? Watching Netflix? Nope. Doesn’t count. You see this is no different from my previous point. Those who really value their time have something that they want to learn and hone. Hobbies take a good deal of effort. It shows they enjoy their own company. Nothing is more attractive than a person being busy with their hobbies and goals. Originality also matters.
I value those who take the effort to write a complete sentence with correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. It shows they pay attention to their thoughts. It shows they don’t take you for granted. It shows they will leave no room for assumptions. However, great command over a language is not a proxy for intelligence.
I value friendships that push me to be a better version of myself. If I don’t feel someone’s presence in my life has any uplifting effect on me, I try not to take it too far. At the worst, you would see my vindictive side. I judge you by the friends you move along with. Nothing can clearly show shared values as a bunch of friends.
As for the reader, I value your time. Thank you for staying till the end. I hope to write more about the world, music, arts, business and technology soon. I have a bunch of interesting topics lines up. Stay tuned.