While I don't practice a formal religion, I do consider myself to be a spiritual person. An important part of spirituality is having a set of guiding principles that help you navigate your way through life. This forms the basis for how you make decisions and interact with others with respect to your relationships, career and life.
My Own 3 Core Values
My own guiding principles come from the 3 core values that I chose for myself years ago. I gave myself the freedom to change them at any point if I felt they no longer reflected how I wanted to show up in the world, but I've never felt the need. I chose them because I felt they represented the core of who I am and how I want to be when I'm at my best. They are as follows:
How I Use My Core Values
In life, we all face choices. Some are mundane, some are more significant, some are easy, and some are painfully challenging. It could be a decision as to how to deal with a difficult co-worker or whether to tell a white lie to get out of going to a social event in which you have no interest.
Whatever the decision, I lean on my 3 core values to make my choice. I'll weigh out the options, asking myself, "Is this authentic? Is this compassionate? Is this kind?" If any of questions is answered with a no, I reject the option.
Working through Nuances
Having done this for well over a decade for most things, I usually don't even have to ask the questions anymore, as most of the time the answers are self-evident. The challenge in using this method comes when the decision is highly nuanced.
Here's a fictional example of how I might apply it. Let's say I had a friend, Jane, who just broke up with a person she was dating. She wants to get together to talk about it, but I already have plans with another friend. Now if Jane had been dating her partner for 10 years and she just found out they had been cheating on her for the past year, I would probably lean toward cancelling on the other friend if that plan was a casual one, like a weekly chat over a coffee after work.
But what if the situation with Jane were different? What if Jane is not in the healthiest place with herself and she finds herself breaking it off with people every month because she keeps self-indulgently finding things wrong with her dates, something I have gently pointed out in the past? As such, she is quick to break it off with people in a way that's reminiscent of the characters on Seinfeld. Let's then say that my other friend, let's call him John, is meeting me because he just found out his cat has cancer and is going to have to put it to sleep. You get the idea... it's a different situation altogether.
Using Core Values to Plot a Course of Action
As using your core values becomes second nature, it becomes easier to make choices when the situations are more nuanced. Then it becomes a question of how to handle it when you do make the choice.
Let's go back to the above example, and apply my 3 core values using the second version of the scenario. I would say no to Jane who has repeatedly shown she is not willing to take responsibility for her own failings in her relationships. I would thus keep my plans with John out of compassion and kindness for him in his time of need, rather than running to help the friend who isn't doing anything to help themselves. And honestly, if I were growing weary Jane's lack of ownership of her failings, I would probably still keep my plans with John even if it was just to meet up for a casual coffee.
The greater challenge in this situation would be how to be authentic to Jane, while still exercising compassion and kindness for both her AND myself. Obviously, there isn't one single best way to handle the situation, for me or anyone, but I would still look to my values to come up with an approach that feels right to me. If the person was starting to expect more from me and our friendship in a way that pushed past my boundaries, it would definitely involve drawing a line.
Here's one theoretical way I might handle the situation. I would say to Jane, "I understand that you're upset right now and want someone to talk it through. Unfortunately, I have plans that I can't break. I can call you afterward to talk if that works for you."
If Jane is insistent or accuses me of not being there for her in her "time of need", then perhaps her self-indulgence isn't limited to their dating life and I might re-evaluate the level of friendship I want from Jane, which would be done out of self-compassion.
Sigh. Life and relationships can be complicated.
But the longer you live by your core values, the easier it becomes to know what is right for you in the way you connect with people and live your life. You start to develop systems using your cove values to work things out, and use tools like journalling, meditation, or talking to a friend or coach to tap into your inner wisdom.
Either way, I have found that my core values have become one of my most important tools for me to live what I consider to be a spiritual life in my own way. It allows me to face challenges with as much grace and humility as they allow. No one is perfect all the time, but having my core values helps me navigate things even when I misstep, allowing me to do my best to own up to my mistakes.
Now over to you. What are your core values? I know it might be a bit too personal to share on a blog, but if you have a situation that you have found your values to have served you in life that you would like to share, please feel free to post them in the comments so that all can learn from your experience.