This morning, I was talking with a close friend about a decision I am making — one of life-altering variety. I invited them to share in my happiness to which I received a startling response:
I just don’t see that this in line with your values.
This gave me significant pause. This person knows me. They have read the values written on my office window, and they have listened to me spiel about one or another particular value-driven intention on more than one occasion. What the heck did they mean? Of course I am living consistently with my values! Surely they are biased and not seeing me clearly.
Happily, I did not react defensively, and I noticed that I felt unhappily aroused by this comment. I stepped over the window, and I began reading my values. Mentally checking them off. Consistent with this, check; consistent with that, check.
What could they possibly mean? I returned the question to them:
In what ways do you see that I am acting inconsistency with my values?
(And then I read them out to make sure they hadn’t forgotten them). That’s when I noticed a newer addition to the values list.
I’m still thinking on that one. I added it to the list after a conflict where I felt that there had been injustice, and I am not fully committed to claiming it as a personal value. Is my since that there “should be” justice indoctrination as a daughter of democracy — liberty, justice, and pursuit of property, for all, etc. — or does it form the cornerstone of my identity?
As a value, Justice exists as if on another realm, completely independent from external influence — think Plato’s theory of Forms. Justice doesn’t give a damn if I believe in her or not. However, by setting “values-driven” intentions, I enter into a feedback relationship with my values, wherein they become the inputs in a system that influences my decisions and shapes my behaviors and actions.
What would a commitment to Justice-as-a-value (JaaV) mean in terms of the decision I am making?
Potentially, there is a conflict, especially as I move beyond the locus of self. Moving outward across longer scopes, I see that the outcome of this decision will eventually lead to an ethical dilemma in terms of JaaV. Is this a trade-of that is justified?
What does JaaV mean in terms of value-driven intentions that I set for myself, for my company?
Am I inherently biased to prefer justice for myself to the point that I may not recognize injustice to others?
There is an injustice created in the production of mobile smart phones whereby one person benefits at the expense of another, unseen, on the other side of the globe — do I reject smart phones?
Just how much injustice is justifiable?
* * *
I don’t know that these questions have clear outcomes. In pursuing them, we enter the murky territory of the dreaded “ethical dilemma”. However, it is only in asking them that one collects enough information to make the best possible decision at a given point in time.
And after experiencing this tangential line of thinking (with just a touch of annoyance towards my friend), I realize that herein this challenge lies a gift: there is room in this collegial “feedback system” for us to ask the really “sticky” questions.
I can trust there to be accountability from my circle that pushes me to peer into my blind spots and gain a more holistic perspective.
Further, I can feel, at a core level, when I am not living in alignment with my values…
(hint: there is the experience of external conflict).
…and I trust that these tensions support an always-improving alignment to my core values.
Feedback systems — with people, with beliefs, with values — are inherently adaptive to new information. Even if there are elements of this decision that turn out to be mistakes, I can trust my ability to learn and to grow, to make the next best possible decision at the next cross-roads.
* * *
Thank you, my friend, for your challenge to me this morning.
And welcome, Justice, as a verified member of the window list! You’re a pesky bugger, but you raise good questions.