OPINION COLUMNS

No pain, no pain: Deconstructing and defining my core values

By Joy Carrico | Published Saturday, January 14, 2017
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In this week’s copy of All Around Wise, Gerry Lewis wrote a column called “What are your core values?”

He starts by explaining the difference between beliefs and core values. Beliefs are abstract, while core values motivate us to act in certain ways. We can say we believe in “honesty” all we want while we repeatedly fill our water glasses at the fast-food joint with soda. Whatever we might say, honesty did not motivate us to take something we did not pay for.

Joy Carrico

Joy Carrico

Sure, we all believe in honesty. In principle, it’s a very noble and politically-correct thing to proclaim allegiance to. But does our behavior indicate that we value honesty above convenience or saving a couple of bucks on an overpriced soda? That’s the difference, according to Gerry Lewis, between a belief and a core value.

I find this really interesting. If our core values are demonstrated through our actions, then we should be able to figure out what people value by observing their behavior. We shouldn’t need anyone to tell us what they value. If we watch them for a while, we can figure it out for ourselves.

It would be easy for me to draw humorous and cynical conclusions about what other people value. One hour of reading Facebook posts and comments would provide all the fuel I need for that fire.

But how do I measure up when I look at my own behavior and look for what I value? You’ll get nothing from my Facebook page. I rarely, if ever, post anything, and I’m a notorious “vague-booker.” I tend to post song lyrics with no explanation of why or random thoughts with no context.

I take that back. We can pull a value from my Facebooking. My interactions (and lack of interactions) on Facebook say that I value my own privacy, while enjoying the option of seeing what others are willing to put out into the webiverse. Most of the privacy restrictions are set on my account. In fact, you might actually have to be me to see my Facebook page at all – I’ll have to check my settings.

When I look at my whole life, from earliest memories, I conclude that core value No. 1 seems to be: avoid pain and discomfort. Although adulthood has tempered me and I understand that pain cannot be avoided by being side-stepped or medicated, I must conclude from a lifetime of sleeping in, avoiding unpleasant or tedious tasks, using various substances or behaviors to avoid my uncomfortable feelings and other “coping” skills that I have put a great deal of my resources towards avoiding pain and seeking comfort.

Even the positive work I have done to make changes, to face my struggles and be a “better person” is motivated by a desire to not be in pain. I would never have sought the help and guidance I did if I hadn’t been in pain, and the old ways weren’t working anymore. Yep. Core value No. 1 is: I don’t like pain and seek to avoid it.

Core value No. 2 is that being creative is more important than being wealthy. This core value stems from observing my career path (“path” might be too strong a word) and seeing that I walked away from an unimaginative career that offered prestige and money to a career that offered creativity and artistry, but for which wealth and recognition are less available. And yet I am happier and more fulfilled than I ever was in that other, uncreative life.

When I look at the people I’ve chosen as friends, I conclude that (Core Value No. 3) authenticity is required. My friends don’t have that many things in common with each other. Are they all funny? No. Are they all artistic? No. Are they all brilliant conversationalists? No. Are they all authentic? Yes.

My friends are who they say they are. Nothing raises red flags faster for me than when I encounter someone who claims to be one way but acts in a different way.

All of us are hypocrites to some degree. We may say we are law-abiding citizens, and we’ve all run a red light or two. But an inauthentic person will repeatedly fail to measure up to their self-assessment. And I do not trust people who are faking or “people-pleasing.”

Core value No. 4 is: do not do what you know does not work. Tony Bennett said, “Life teaches you really how to live it if you can live long enough.” And one of life’s biggest messages to me has been, “If it hasn’t worked in the past, it’s not going to work now, no matter how hard you push. Even if you think it should or you want it to or you don’t know what else to do.”

No matter how much effort I put into it, I will never be able to fill a hole with smoke. The smoke will always dissipate, and I’ll be left with a smoky hole. If smoke is all I have to work with, then I cannot plug the hole. I’m better off letting the hole be there and turning my efforts to something I can do.

I used to think that if I worried about my (then) husband every minute while he was traveling, nothing bad would happen to him, so I would keep myself in a state of worry until I knew he had arrived at his destination. I thought if I let up on my vigilant worrying, that would be the moment his plane would crash, and it would be my fault.

I have learned that I don’t have that kind of power. My worry had no effect on the laws of aerodynamics. So today, I put down worry about people’s travels. There is nothing I can do to assure their safe arrival.

Causing myself distress does not help them at all and it harms me, so I don’t do it. I act according to my value: if I know it won’t work, I don’t do it. That’s harder than it sounds, especially when the only thing I can come up with to do about something is an action I know will be futile. Doing nothing about something can be an excruciating choice.

I could go on, but what I have read about core values is that I should limit my list to four or five. This may be a partial list, but it is an accurate one, I think. My behavior and choices show me that I seek a life that runs smoothly, that is creative, that is authentic and that works. I can live with that.

Joy Carrico is a Messenger graphic artist.

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