Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Would You Like Values with That?

Have you noticed that our society urges us to choose our friends and romantic partners based on physical attributes, religious tradition or favorite activities? A friend once complained to me that he liked brunettes, and there were plenty of them out there, but he just couldn’t manage to find the right one for a relationship that would last. I’ve had other friends grumble that they can’t find a romantic partner or good, close friends within their religion but they’re unwilling to look outside that tradition. Despite cultural pressure to pick and choose based on particular characteristics, how about deciding who we spend our time with based on how compatible their values are with ours? That leads to a deeper problem: How do you figure out what your values are?

Just being a part of a religious tradition doesn’t necessarily dictate your values. They’re not automatically the same as spiritual beliefs. They’re more like ideals or life principles – the concepts you base all your judgments on. And I've seen quite a wide variety within both the Pagan community and among the Christians I know. Your values may align to a certain extent with your political preferences and to a certain extent with your spiritual tradition. One helpful bit of information to keep in mind is this: Someone, somewhere has probably already hammered out a set of principles that are pretty close to yours. You don’t have to start from scratch.

I was first introduced to the concept of life values when I briefly attended a Unitarian Universalist church when I was a teenager. That was a radical act for small-town Florida, let me tell you. Some people thought UUs were practically hippies - oh, the horror! Rather than a required dogma of beliefs, the UUs have a set of principles they support. At the time I was still struggling with my own spiritual identity so I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to that information. But many years later, as I was working to put my worldview into words, I rediscovered the principles when I began occasionally attending two local UU churches in addition to my Pagan activities.

The seven Unitarian Universalist principles are:

  1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

I don’t identify as a UU even though I occasionally attend a UU church. I’m Pagan. But I do identify, very strongly, with these principles. I have tweaked them a bit for my own use (I drop the ‘in our congregations’ part from the third principle and the ‘within our congregations’ from the fifth, for example) but overall, these are the values I live by. They inform my decisions about who I vote for, how I support human rights and civil rights issues, and how I choose my friends.

The people I spend time with share my values. They may be Democrats, Libertarians, Greens, Populists, Independents, or something else entirely. They may be Pagan, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, or some other tradition (or lack thereof). Their skin, hair and eyes may be of any color and their ancestors may be from any region of the globe. They may identify anywhere along the gender and sexuality spectrum. But they share the most important trait of all: a set of life values that mesh with mine.

Do these principles resonate with you? Do you disagree with them? Would you change any of them? Answering these questions puts you on the path to defining your own life values. Once you’ve done that, you can begin to spend time with people whose deepest principles beat in time with yours. And that makes for truly lasting relationships of all kinds.