A common value to us, too often forgotten

Published Tuesday, December 20, 2016 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal and the Fredericton Daily Gleaner.

If you ask someone what matters most to them, the answer is bound to include one or more of following values: family, friends, health, career, happiness.

But here’s a challenging thought: is the way we live true to the values we profess to be most important?  

And here’s another: is it possible that we might have values we’re unaware of? 

December is a good time for reflection.  

Important values

There’s no denying the importance of family, friends, health, career and happiness.  No person is an island, and what a lonely, miserable existence it would be without having people – friends and family – around us to love and to be loved by. All we need is an injury, a bout of the flu or some other ailment to remind us what a gift good health is.  A successful career generates income to sustain our wants and needs, but also provides fulfillment and meaning.  And happiness is the product of all of the above.

But every now and then, it’s worth reflecting on how well our values align with our habits, to see if any adjustments are needed.  On close examination, we may discover, for example, that we’re spending more time on Facebook than we’re spending with those closest to us – which would seem to suggest that Facebook is more important.  We may discover that we’re spending more time eating and drinking than we are exercising – which would suggest that being healthy is less important.  In fact, perhaps the best indicator of the substance and depth of our values is the way we spend our time.  Actions always speak louder than words, and our actions – whether watching television, surfing the net or volunteering for greater good – are the most honest mirrors of our true values.

One more value

I’ll venture there’s another value we all have, whether we recognize it or not.  It’s concern for our environment.  That might sound presumptuous, but I’m fairly certain it’s a value common to us all, for two reasons.

First, we’re all directly dependent upon air, water and food, the gifts of our environment.  As the Lung Association slogan goes, “When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.”  Ditto for good food and water.

Secondly, the things that matter most to us – whether people, health, career, business or specific activities like skiing, hunting, canoeing or traveling – depend on a healthy environment and a stable climate.  

But that which is always present is so easily taken for granted.  In 1836, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.” 

These days, perhaps nothing is more taken for granted than the environment that quietly sustains us all.

Two closing thoughts

The personal creed of former Alberta Lieutenant-Governor Grant MacEwan was, “I am prepared to stand before my Maker, the Ruler of the entire universe, with no other plea than that I have tried to leave things in His Vineyard better than I found them.”  You don’t have to be religious to perceive substantive values and deep commitment.

The Farmer’s Creed, which long hung in my parents’ home, includes this line: “I believe my life will be measured ultimately by what I have done for my fellow man.”  No wonder farmers are regarded as the salt of the earth.

“Your values become your destiny,” Mahatma Gandhi said years ago.  

Our values become our destiny.  And since we choose our values, you could say we choose our destiny.

So let’s head into 2017 with strong values, and align our habits with those values.  More rewarding lives for us, a better future for the planet.