In the End, It’s Up to Us

Last week a colleague asked me to review a course outline she’d designed to teach entrepreneurs how to write a business plan. The curriculum in front of me contained information about finance, law, marketing and social media.

“Where’s the values statement?” I asked.

“The what?”

The values statement.

A mission statement outlines what an organization does. A vision statement sets a direction for the future.

A values statement tells how an organization conducts business. It expresses standards for operation like how a company treats customers, its relationship to the environment, and how important civic responsibility is.

As an ethical blueprint, a values statement is foundational. It’s the bedrock of decision-making. It’s the intention—kavanah in Hebrew and niyat in Arabic—that tells us what an organization stands for. When making decisions about wages, whether to go green, or a company’s return policy, entrepreneurs use values statements to guide their actions.

A values statement says: This is who I am.

Lately when the new normal hasn’t corresponded much to the old normal, I’ve been thinking it might be a good idea for each of us to examine our own values statement.

What do we, individually, stand for?

Authentic, reliable and personal, my values served as ballast this week when I thought I might tip over. In a sea of social and political turbulence, they clarified my priorities and sharpened my worldview. My values kept my fear in check and my eye on what’s important. To me.

My values statement is a declaration of the ethical principles by which I live–even when I change my mission (what I do) and my vision (where I’m heading.) They helped me decide whether or not to don The Safety Pin (I did) or criticize a post on social media (I didn’t.)

My values are solid.

It’s easy to confuse principles (“It’s the principle of the thing”) with values. So let’s be clear: I’m not talking about principles here.

Principles are standards of behavior that we hold under certain conditions that, if conditions alter, change. For example, do you take the larger or smaller piece of cake on a platter in the middle of the table? If the other guy took the larger piece last time and you then feel entitled to the larger piece this time, you’re acting on principle. Under different circumstances (i.e., you’re on a diet, the cake looks stale, you just ate a candy bar) you wouldn’t take the larger piece. A value is unchangeable. Generosity, kindness and bounty always guide you in deciding who gets the larger piece.

When was the last time you examined your personal values? Were these taught to you as child? Are they part of your faith tradition? Perhaps a book or speaker inspired you to live according to certain ideals? Do they still hold up as yours?

I invite you to take a moment to think about your values. What do you stand for? Notice how your values play out as you interact with friends and colleagues…as you engage in social media! Can you distinguish between your higher self’s values and your lesser self’s principles?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

In these are challenging and controversial times, may our values inspire us to act more justly and deal with each other more compassionately. Because in the end, the end will reflect our values today.

Joyce Schriebman, educator, founder of My Brother From Another Mother and co-author of How to Talk to Just about Anyone About Israel-Palestine

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