Know What You Value

Robert McCreary, Social Studies Teacher - NPHS


Studying values and their importance to a society is a popular one in the field of sociology.  Every culture on earth has their own set of values that they adhere to and try to promote.  Many cultures have the same set of values but differ in how they prioritize them.  For example, both the United States and Japan have personal achievement and self-sacrifice as values.  However, citizens of the United States tend to place the value of personal achievement over the value of self-sacrifice.  Japan tends to place more of an importance on self-sacrifice.  These differences in priorities come out in the form of different incentives and behaviors of citizens in both cultures. 

When it comes to sports, the “National Pastime” for both countries is the game of baseball.  The rules of the game are the same in both countries but the behaviors expected of players can be very different.  In America, fans love the superstar player who stands out among all the rest.  In turn, players strive to outperform all others because it usually translates to more publicity, more popularity, and more income.  In Japan, the emphasis is on the “wa” which translated, means “unity” or “team harmony.”  The Japanese also have the saying “The nail that sticks up will be hammered down.”  As a result, Japanese players who try to stand out face scorn from their teammates and fans who consider them selfish and too focused on personal achievement.  Of course, in America, it is just the opposite.  Players, rightly or wrongly, attempt to get more and more attention which mirrors the high value of personal achievement in our country.  Attempts to get the American superstar player to tone down or to stop showing off usually leads to an unhappy player who may eventually leave town for another team that “appreciates” him more. 

The point is, the values of a country or the order in which those values are placed can have a huge impact on the behavior of a country as a whole.  This is true when we analyze individuals as well.  If you want to get a feel for what an individual values, just observe their behavior.  In class, I give the example of a student who consistently shows up late and then attempts to sleep.  If you then see that same student outside after school on the practice field full of energy and all over the field, you can probably assume correctly that the student values athletics more than academics.  It shows in her behavior.

Understanding what it is that you value can not only explain why you behave the way you do.  It also can make decision making much easier.  In a way, values act as a lighthouse that can guide you back to the path you want to travel on.  Like a boat at sea, we all run into stormy weather at times.  Life is filled with ups and downs that present us with some very difficult decisions.  A boat that is lost can always look for the lighthouse in the darkness to guide them to safety.  Get rid of the lighthouse and the boat will wander around aimlessly and be at the mercy of whatever wave or wind gust hits them.  When people do not know what they stand for, the same thing occurs.  Life tosses these people around like that lost boat at sea.  Identifying what you value, however, provides a person a light to focus on and move towards.   If a tough decision comes your way, just look for the light.  For example, let’s say an athlete has a game on a Saturday morning.  There also is a great party Friday night that will be attended by many of her friends.  Many people will wrestle with their decision on what to do.  If the athlete values their team and the game enough, it will not be a hard decision at all.  A student that does not know what is truly important to them will not know what to do and may be pulled towards a bad decision.  A great quote that encompasses this point is as follows.

Those who do not stand for something will fall for anything.

Identifying what it is you truly value can have enormous positive consequences for individuals and society as a whole.  Taking the time every now and again to identify them or remind yourself of those values is good advice for all of us.