A clash of values
|February 23, 2019||Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized|
(Yes, there’s a bit of horsey content in this post)
When I was away at Loma Linda one of the most common opening statements that other people would say upon meeting me and getting the relevant signalment was “you must really miss your child/family!”.
Lying and saying I did miss them just to avoid the inevitable raised eyebrow was such a complete antithesis to my actual feelings I found I couldn’t just smile and nod and move on (probably another great fault of mine…). I would offer that what I really missed was my horses. Did this help my cause? Probably not.
The truth is, I’m not one of those people who is cut out to be at home – with or without a child. I don’t particularly like traveling without a home base, but once I have a secure home location, my worst nightmare is being trapped there or made to spend any length of time there. I don’t need to sleep in my own bed very often, and I don’t need to see my friends and family IRL regularly to feel connected to them.
It wasn’t until I started doing character sketches for my current novel that the lightbulb went on.
I didn’t miss my family because they are not one of my top VALUES, even though they are still important to me.
The clash between me and well-meaning people asking the question was the assumption we had the same values.
Let me explain.
Like a character in my novel I have GOALS. These goals are rooted in my AMBITIONS. And the thing that drives all of this is my VALUES.
If you were a character in a novel, you would probably have 2-3 main values.
One way to try to separate values from “important things” is to complete this sentence: “Nothing is more important than…”
For me, those sentences would probably be
- … independence (if you are looking for a yes man, I’m not it)
- …being heard (some of my worst nightmares are screaming about something important and no one seems to notice or even acknowledge me).
- …the outdoors, especially shared open spaces.
There are other things that are important to me – family, money, respect – but with none of these things could I say that “nothing is more important”.
This list probably looks different for you, and that’s OK! Different values don’t mean we aren’t going to get along, or that one of us is an “immoral” person. It simply means that the major driving forces in your life are different from mine.
Any value can be taken to the extreme. Just like a novel, conflict is usually a clash of values. Maybe one person wrongly assumes that all people have the same values, or decides to impose their values on someone else, or someone takes their values to an extreme that leaves no room for anyone to have different values.
In the horse world my values can probably be summed up: (Nothing is more important than…)
- Taking care of retirees that gave you significant service.
- Being fair the horse – not asking too much.
- A good death.
I think it’s pretty obvious how these values could cause conflict. Imagine if I’m trying to have a conversation with someone who’s horse values are to maximize each horse’s potential, or believes that where there is life, there is hope. We probably have some common “important things” but when it comes to priorities and goals they probably look really different. Now let’s imagine that we are discussing rules and policies that should be in place to protect and support our values. The conversation is likely to get really heated. It’s not wrong to want to race (or not), or want to do heroic measures to save a life in the face of a poor prognosis (or not), but the trick is to realize your values are not the only valid ones, and to realize that any value taken to an extreme is how we get really awesome novel and movie villains.
I realized that people who assumed that missing my child and family were first and foremost on my mind, probably had themselves a value of family being more important than almost anything, or they assumed that as a mother of a young child, that would be my value.
I was annoyed and they were confused – all over a case of mistaken and assumed values.
Because I think too much, of course I couldn’t just leave it there.
A particular set of values is probably more common in certain genders and certain values are probably more useful in different eras.
Let’s call my particular set of values/personality “the explorer”. I value independence. I don’t mind walking away from “responsibilities”, or starting over, or spending a long time away from the “safe thing”. In fact, I NEED that space and time for my mental health. It goes beyond a preference or something that is “fun” for me. It’s an intrinsic part of me that needs to be fed, the way I imagine some people feel fulfilled when they have a child or find the perfect place to live?
I think society is less accepting of this personality in women – especially women with kids – compared to men. The general assumption is that when I have a child, that child becomes the most important thing to me and the other parts of me will fade into the background in the flurry of family, parenting, and creating a home. But, it didn’t.
I imagine that when we read about the “brave” men and women of two centuries ago that left their homes to “travel to the unknown”, I would have been right there with them. Not so much because I’m particularly brave, but because it makes my brain very happy to do stuff like that. Perhaps, the men and women that chose that path were like me – driven more by a sense of adventure and longing for whatever was around the bend of the trail, instead of a cozy safe home. I’m always bit confused when people talk about how brave I am for doing the things I do (who me? You are talking about me?). Perhaps, like me, they were motivated more by curiosity and an inability to NOT go and do and see, rather than bravery?
I think the human experience for us individually is rooted in our values. It’s one of the reasons we have such a difficult time figuring out why other people do things that we ourselves would never do, or that seem illogical. It’s because a different set of values is driving their goals and motivation. In extreme cases it’s harmful to society and “wrong”, but I think it’s important to realize that in most cases it’s just different.
Next time you find yourself in an impossible circular conversation about horse welfare, what kind of awards we should have in an organization, or how we should approach drug testing at horse events…take a moment to step back and ask yourself what values are coming into play. What assumptions are being made about the value of the other people in the conversation? What are the actual values of those people?
Understanding goes a long ways towards productive conversation and change. Most of the time once we realize what makes the other person tick, we can find common ground and a compromise.
For those people who just can’t imagine that any values are valid except their own, and insist on forcing those values on everyone else (yes, I’m sure we all have those people in our lives), I recommend keeping the conversation to the weather. Unless of course, you are writing a novel and want a compelling villain and plot.