Values are principles that help us decide how to act. They are the importance, worth or usefulness that we give to something.
Every choice we make is based on what we value. Every action and every decision is an expression of what we value in that moment. When we face tough decisions, we are forced to ask ourselves the question: What do I stand for?
We cannot always choose what happens in life but we can choose how to respond. Our response is based on what we hold to be of value. Through our actions we can choose to stand for values like courage, compassion, justice and truth. Not matter what, we always have this choice. In every moment we can ask, who do I want to be in this moment?
The following story shows how, even if those around us act differently, we can choose to live by our own values, staying true to our own moral code.
It was many years ago, on a hill, high up in Greece, there lived a couple called Philemon and Baucis. They were poor but happy. They gathered grapes from the vine, and bees from the honey. In their little field they grew grain and the had one old calf who provided them with milk. The couple lived a simple life but a good life. They had everything they needed.
At the foot of the hill where they lived was a beautiful village filled with old streets and small cottages. Fertile pastureland spread out surrounding the town.
But the people who lived there were mean. They thought only of themselves and did not understand the value of giving and sharing.
Despite the little that they had, Philemon and Baucis took pleasure in generosity. When a traveller passed through, they always offered and shared what they had.
Around this time, word had spread that the great god Zeus who ruled the world was to pay the little town a visit. Everyone was beside themselves with busyness, preparing food and making the town beautiful before the arrival of the great one.
One evening, just after dark, too old beggars came walking through the valley in search of sustenance. They asked at each house for food and somewhere to sleep. But the people were too tired and too busy in their preparation for Zeus that they turned them away. The wretched creatures hobbled on with sores on their feet, climbing up the hill to the house of Philemon and Baucis. The kindly old couple had eaten little for they were saving their food for Zeus, but they welcomed the two beggars in.
“Surely, these poor souls need the food more than a god like Zeus”, they remarked to each other.
They laid out the best table cloth and plates for their guest offering up a lovely spread of milk and honey, bacon, bread and grapes. As the beggars feasted a strange thing happened. The cutlery they touched turned to gold. Every bit of food they ate instantly returned in greater abundance. Nothing ever ran out but replenished again and again.
The old couple offered up their only bed to their guests to sleep in and the following morning saw them safely on their way. As they parted they saw the face of one of their guest begin to light up like the sun. They knew then that this was Zeus who had visited them.
“In return for your generosity, whatever you wish for, shall be granted to you”, Zeus declared.
He offered them a larger house, more land, crops and cattle but Philemon and Baucis replied that they had all the needed.
As the years went by the couple grew older but remained content. They found happiness in giving and sharing what they had, happy helping others and not thinking too much about what they wished for themselves.
Then one day Baucis said to Philemon, “I wish that we would never die but could always live together”.
“That’s exactly what I wish for too”, replied Philemon.
The next day their hut had disappeared. Baucis and Philemon were gone too. But on top of the hill where the good people had lived stood two trees, an oak and a Linden.
Over the years those who came and sat on the lovely hill beneath the beautiful trees could hear the soft sound of the two whispering to each other.
“Baucis”, whispered the Oak.
“Philemon”, whispered the Linden.
The branches and roots of both trees grew deeper and deeper into each other, providing gentle shade and refuge from the sun and rain for any traveller wandering past.
Despite what was happening in their community the couple in this story chose to stay true to what they felt was the right way to behave. They listened to what mattered most to them and lived according to that.
Can you remember a time when you stood up for something you felt to be right even though it might have been unpopular? What are the difficulties in doing this?
Now, let’s explore your personal values in more depth.
What values would you like to embody in your life? What do you want your life to represent? How would you like others to remember you after you are gone? Caring, kind, creative? Brave, honest, fair? Patient, forgiving, understanding?
The values our life represent are the ultimate legacy we leave in this world. They are the ultimate contribution we can make to creating a better world.