What I mean by Core Values is that these are the things I believe to be true, and the standards I vow to hold myself to---while recognizing they are not universal values and I cannot expect these of others, only demand them of myself. Yet, these are value that, if I had the ability to invent humans from scratch, I would instill on every model of human.
Core Values (a working draft):
- All living things are to be treated with respect and kindness.
I then started to write "deserve"--as in, "deserve to be treated with..."--but stopped because I think that is the wrong word. I don't think it's about deserving anything. Desert implies that we earned something, that something is owed to us for some action. That's not really what I believe. I think regardless of actions committed, regardless of any and all things, all living things should be treated with respect and kindness. That is what I believe to be true and right, above all. So, this is core value number one.
Now, what precisely do I mean by "respect" and "kindness"? What are the exact borders and required actions for those words? Words, beautiful though they may be, are merely a mirage until we clearly articulate and accept the responsibility of the implied commitments we are promising when we say things.
*Respect: For this word, what I require of myself towards all livings things, is that I always obtain consent, when in doubt and where possible, before touching or asking about personal things. I respect others autonomy and ownership of their bodies and their lives. I take their words as honest communication. I start from the assumption that what they tell me is being told without malcontent and is accurate from their perspective. I respect their body, their space, their personal belongings, their words, their past, their hearts, and their hurts. I do not purposely cross these boundaries without their willing consent. I meet all living things as an equal and attempt to treat all not merely as I would want to be treated (for I have my own personal preferences that I cannot assume onto others who have their own based on their own lives), but I treat all with the same respect for their body, soul, mind, space, and time. And if I accidentally step over those boundaries, I own the hurt and damage caused and make amends to the best of my ability in a way appropriate for that particular being. In other words, Respect also means "do no harm."
*Kindness: For this word, the dictionary defines it as being of a "sympathetic or helpful nature" of a "forbearing (*patient, restrained) nature" to give "relief or pleasure." For myself, what I require of my kindness towards all living things is to lead my interactions with others from a place of "how can I understand?" and "how can I help?" It requires blinding myself to the assumptions that follow all the ways we label ourselves and others as humans. It requires a loss of generalizations on any type of person. It requires all person-hood be met with the same kindness and respect.
Now, for self-protection, I would like to add into this definition that just because I believe all living things are to be treated with respect and kindness, does not mean I am required to go out of my way to proactively deliver kindness and respect to others. It also does not mean that I, personally, am required to forgo my own safety when someone else is not respecting my being to provide them kindness first. What it does mean--taking an example of the incident in the grocery store parking lot where a man followed me trying to get me to let him fix my car and when I asked him to leave me alone he said, "What--do you think I'm going to rape you? No offense but your not pretty enough to rape." Taking this incident where I did not feel safe and was not being treated with respect or kindness. I did not forgo my safety to stop and see how I could help this man, how I could understand this man, how I could provide relief for this man. And I also believe I handled it in the best way I could--by stating I was not interested and wished to be left alone. So, while all living things are to be treated with respect and kindness, perhaps the subtitle of this core value is that it should not be done at the expense of personal safety. It should also be acknowledged and understood by me that just because I approach others with respect and kindness does not mean that they owe me anything in return, or that they are capable of, at that moment in their life, for whatever reason, extending the same back to me.
*A final, difficult note regarding Respect & Kindness: Gossip, generalizations, and name-calling are rarely productive and always violate this rule. I understand that sometimes it feels like a relief to call, for example, President #45 or his supporters derogatory remarks. And certainly President #45 is quick to use them himself towards others. But what does this accomplish? Nothing productive. I am allowing myself to criticize policy and back it up with reasons and site facts. To vote--a must. To have discussions with others where I meet them first as a human who deserves respect and kindness, not as a democrat or republican, or any other label. This is hard. This is very, very hard. This is nearly impossible sometimes--and in those times, perhaps the best, most productive thing I can do is simply to walk away. But also, I honestly feel we, as a society, have made it too easy to divide ourselves into "us" vs. "them" thinking, and completely taken out the critical discussions that must exist to unite the two on some, if not all grounds. I am not delusional--I do not believe it is possible for the entire world to suddenly adopt a new way of thinking and communicating with each other, but for myself--the only one I can control--I must require this of myself. It is what I believe is the right way to approach discourse. After-all, before any of us were republicans or democrats, Christians, Muslims, Atheists, etc. before it all, we were humans. And I must fight to remember the humanity in my fellow humans of all kinds through it all. I will require that of myself.
Generalizations are popular these days and while I am "generally" (haha) against them, I do feel they have served a purpose in making it known that a disproportion number of women face harassment and abuse by men, a disproportionate number of black people face abuse by police, etc. These generalizations rose by countless individual stories piling on top of each other and a growing frustration by the hurt parties and communities of these actions that these maltreatment's were being silenced and swept under rugs for far too long. The use of these generalizations was to bring attention to the disproportionate injustices in a way that could no longer be ignored due to the "bad seed" argument and alluded instead to a systemic problem that was far-reaching. In this way, I feel generalizations have been productive, but I fear that the more comfortable people get in making generalizations, the more we will become divisive and less productive at actually solving the issues that the generalizations helped bring to light. I understand the benefit, but I am cautious of the risk of closing off the much needed lines of communication to actually enable change, rather than a simple chastisement and decent into fear and chaos.
As an example: If a kid does something wrong... something he has seen his brothers do and get away with, his friends do and get away with, something he is learning is not only okay but expected of him as a kid. And one day his Mother catches him and spanks him and shames him and grounds him for a week, without explaining what he did wrong, trying to understand why he did it and working together to find better ways to deal with those situations. Is that kid going to understand what he did wrong and not want to do it again? Or is he going to internalize that negative response, bitter because he was shamed for doing something others got away with, that he felt he was doing merely to "fit in"... Is he going to lash out? Become a better liar? Sneakier? Ideally all parents and caregivers help their kids learn right and wrong by teaching through exploring the "why's" but in reality, this is not something I can reasonably assume is taught for a multitude of reasons. So, whether I like it or not, whether it is fair to me or not, sometimes, if I really do want change, I will have to teach those lessons, explain those why's. I can't just call someone a name and block them--I mean, I can, and sometimes I certainly even should block them (safety first!), but I can't assume everyone has even a basic understanding of how to put themselves in someone else's shoes and see things from another perspective. That would be nice, but in my experience it frustratingly isn't reality. I vow not to make generalizations and to speak up in teachable moments.
2. Safety First!
This core value is born out of the idea that I cannot take care of others if I am in crisis. If I am on fire, physically or emotionally, I cannot put anyone else's fires out. I have to save myself first. In this respect, the "Safety First" core value is more than just simply about attending to my own crisis moments first, but also about maintaining my well-being. In other words, don't just run your car until it's out of gas and you're stranded on the side of the road (or in line at Sonic, LOL) and have to flag down assistance. I need to be regularly checking in with myself and my own well-being. If I am getting low, I need to be proactive about taking care of myself. Even if I am physically healthy and mentally healthy, I can have harmful beliefs I may not be aware of, so I need to learn to spot check for blinders. As a white American woman who grew up in the conservative Bible belt in a fairly healthy, loving home...I have a lot of blinders I have had to shed and many more to shed. I have to actively seek out other points of view to expand the ways I can understand other points of view, empathize, not cause more harm and hopefully be able to help others. If I am not in a good place, I am not going to be able to do that. I am not going to be able to be that self-aware, that self-less, and that proactive if I am existing in survivor mode. Which is actually also important to keep in mind if I am in a teaching moment with someone who is not treating me with respect or kindness, who is determined to see me as a label of something rather than a fellow human...keep in mind, they may be in survivor mode. They may not be able to, in that moment, see beyond a rage that at its core is rooted in something much deeper and more dire than whatever moment I think I am in with them. In this case, if I cannot help them, if they will not let me help them with their fire, the kindest and most respectful thing I may be able to do is to walk away and let them find the help they can accept in someone else. I could not help that man in the parking lot, who if taken respectfully at his word, needed work so badly he was desperately following people in a parking lot, without putting myself into a potentially unsafe situation, and he could not accept my boundaries, so I had to get away and hope that someone else could attend to him in a way that was safe for them both.
3. Just because I do not understand something, does not mean it's bad or wrong.
I am not the authority on all living things and lives. My experiences and personal preferences are simply the starting point to which I relate to people, not the standard by which I judge people, or the end point of what I am capable of appreciating or learning more about. If something is not endangering or hurting someone, it is not my place to speak negatively about it. This includes the way people present themselves, the way they live and love, the beliefs they hold, the work they make and words they say. Every time I have a snap judgement on someone, I will work to repeat this value to myself as a reminder that I am not the authority, that no one gains by my judgement, that in fact we all lose when we judge someone else's lives instead of seeking to understand them, or if that is not possible for whatever reason, simply carrying on to focus on the things that bring joy and productive growth.
4. I am responsible for expressing my feelings and teaching others how best to love me.
So much pain in my life is my own responsibility and that is hard to accept. I feel hurt about things people have done or not done and I hold them responsible for that pain... when I never even expressed it to the person or gave them the opportunity and tools to learn how to love me in the ways that impact me most. I cannot expect that anyone else knows what I am feeling or thinking. I am responsible for expressing those internal things. I do no one any favors by "sucking it up" and "moving on" while secretly holding onto small slights that slowly snowball internally into much larger conflicts. It is not loving to deny others my whole self for the sake of trying to protect them from any discomfort. This is probably the hardest value for me accept and to actualize in my life. My default is to tuck in any negative emotions I have and tend to the needs of others, but what am I actually accomplishing when I do this? Teaching myself and my loved ones that I do not value my feelings and they shouldn't either? That I am OK with being treated in ways they may not even realize are harmful to me? They love me, I have to tell myself this, they love me and do not want to hurt me, so the kind and respectful thing to do is for me to tell them when they hurt me so they learn what hurts me. It would be easier if we were all hurt by the same things, if we all had the same wounds, if we all knew where the bombs were located...but life is not that easy. We are all different, we all hurt in different spots, we all have different injuries and we have to learn these about each other in order to care for each other. And the way we learn this about each other, is by communicating it to each other. I am responsible for expressing my feelings. And in order to do so, I must first be responsible for learning to how to value my feelings and the space they take up in my relationships. This is scary to me. I fear that if I say someone has hurt me, that simply saying that will hurt that person and that will be my fault and that person will walk out of my life. This is why I hide my feelings, but I do not believe that is healthy or even kind to those who really do love me and are capable of loving and respecting me in a healthy way. I must work to actualize this value.
I am sure my core values will evolve and find new additions. I hope they do. But for now, I will start here. I will vow to these and hold myself accountable.