The Need for Developing a New Value System
As we grow up, we need guiding principles to help structure the development of our identities and define who we are and how we can fit into the world. For better or worse, these principles become the value system that supports our development. But the truth is, we begin to assimilate our values at such an early age that unless we undertake an inner journey of questioning and exploration, this structure and our assumptions about it will remain unconscious and we will simply think of it as part of who we are.
The need for a value structure is one of the deepest instinctual needs that we have. That is why every group of people, every family, every clan, every culture and subculture, down to children in school and youth gangs in the street, instinctively create a value structure that defines them, their ethics, and their sense of morality. This need is an archetypal need and is essentially the same, even though its expressions may take many forms.
As we investigate our deep impulse for developing consciousness, we see that it pushes us to pursue self-awareness and an empowered ego in support of our pursuit of individuation. This pursuit will lead us into a level of consciousness beyond our original value systems. As this journey progresses, we learn that the simple value structure from our earlier life no longer captures the complexity and paradoxes in the life we are experiencing. At this point, we may end up in a state of inner conflict between our old values and the new ones we are struggling to help evolve.
I address this kind of personal crisis in Chapter 1, “Captives of Normalcy” in my book Sacred Selfishness. More often than I would have imagined, I hear someone in my office say, “I just want to be normal and happy” – and that’s a very human desire in our society. I say “in our society,” because that is the way we have been conditioned to think and feel. I don’t think people in the Western world were very concerned with “normalcy” or “happiness” until the modern age, when the focus on “material happiness” became prevalent. Our great teachers and religious leaders in the past were primarily seeking a more comprehensive vision of life, a vision of living with meaning and purpose, and the full experience of being human. In general, they considered happiness as an incidental state or as a by-product, and not something to be devoted to seeking.
Most of us are aware that we haven’t gotten out from under the early influences in our lives as much as we would like to think we have. There is a good reason for the intransigence of these old values. They affected us and we adopted them before our cognitive abilities were developed enough to be aware of what we were learning, and to question it. In particular, we used them to help us secure our developing identities. The “big people” in our lives, when we were small, inculcated us with their values as we sought to make decisions and behave in ways that met their approval. Adopting these values also kept us feeling as safe as possible.
So as we grow up, we end up developing a value system that is founded on the value systems in our families, religious institutions, and schools. Also along the way, we may learn to devalue aggression and conflict, as well as speaking out and standing up for ourselves. We are often taught to hide our feelings. Injunctions like: “Don’t talk back”; “Don’t bother me, I’m busy”; “Turn the other cheek”; and “Honor your Father and your Mother” teach us to form a value structure that simultaneously devalues our own selves and overvalues other people. The values that are structured into our personalities while we are too young to evaluate them affect us on every level of our lives.
The expectations and values we grow up with can be insidious, and even the negative ones are often seductive. How many of us try to chase away our restless dissatisfaction, despite our nice homes, jobs, and families, by asking ourselves, “What have I got to complain about? How can I complain when so many other people are less fortunate?” Our ability to face dissatisfactions is complicated even further if we have reached a level of education and success beyond that of our families of origin. It’s very scary for us to outgrow our families psychologically, and realizing we are doing so, may leave us feeling terribly guilty and even ashamed of ourselves. It can also leave us feeling like exiles, without a home, or roots, or people who care about us and understand us on a familiar level.
Today we are facing an even more complex problem. The value structure that seemed solid in the mid-twentieth century has become contradictory and confusing as our cultural values have been caught in constant change and deterioration. This loss of societal grounding has its good and bad elements, but it leaves many of us and our children vulnerable to being overly influenced by the values of marketing, the media, and now, social networking. In recent years, our values have become driven by economic and commercial pressures for higher, materialistic standards of living in a way that seems involuntary and irrational, even though it often appears practical and conventional. The real solution to the problems that these conflicting, often hollow value systems present is found at the personal and psychological level of being. It requires the inner journey to become aware of and dissolve the hardened structure of values we have been, and are being, indoctrinated into and to search out the deeper, more meaningful values and potentials within ourselves.
As we pursue individuation, our journey into wholeness, the continuous development of consciousness, living in a new way, and listening to our greater Self, our values must shift. Our orientation toward our highest values can no longer be for “perfection,” “success,” “the good life,” or whatever value system is conventional or outside of ourselves. The orientation for highest values must be toward wholeness and true reality. This means we must face and deal with our unwelcome humanness and the unpleasant aspects of ourselves and the rest of the world. As we intentionally allow our new value system to evolve, it is important for it to include a new valuing of our own worth. Doing this may bring us into a crisis of conflict between the old and the new within ourselves, as well as with the people around us who are clinging to the old or conventional systems.
But we need to have the courage to free ourselves from being the captives of the “normalcy” we have known and its pursuit of ways of life that are not authentic for us. If we hesitate in this quest, our freed up emotions and our, thus far, empowered ego will begin to fade away. We must help ourselves find a richer, deeper personal set of values that gives our lives special meaning, a unique purpose, and an openness to love.
(Read Part One: The Ground of Individuation)
(Read Part Two: Emotions: The Royal Messenger of the Unconscious)
(Read Part Three: Emotions: The Groundwork for Becoming Self-Reliant)
(Read Part Five: Learning the Art and Craft of Loving Ourselves)
Articles by Drs. Bud and Massimilla Harris