Part I — If you don’t have a clearly defined purpose, how will know if your choices will move you in the right direction?
“A journey of a thousand miles
Begins beneath the feet”
Verse 64 of the Tao Te Ching* suggests that when you act with integrity, when you are firmly grounded in who you are, the greatest of any journey begins with who you are (and not with a single step).
When you know what you stand for in life you have the clarity about what action steps to take next. What grounds you are your beliefs, values, and character traits that act in solidarity on your purpose like a GPS pointing you in the right direction, compelling you to move towards your intended goals.
Think of a stately mansion that has been around for hundreds of years, beautifully maintained, and made of large blocks of stone. It’s a solidly built structure that looks impervious to severe weather and the wear and tear of time. What you don’t see are the foundations deep below that support the integrity of the structure.
As humans, we have developed various principles and qualities for how to act and behave that support our individual integrity, allow us to function in society, and make a contribution through our creativity and uniqueness. What you stand for may make you part of a group (cultural, political, religious) or it may set you apart in a way that distinguishes you from others (which may or may not be polarizing).
Do You Know the Qualities that Support Your Integrity — Your Foundation in Life?
There are many things that define our humanity. What follows are those qualities that aspire to our moral choices and our personal leadership.
Character Traits — The qualities and characteristics you regularly demonstrate and aspire to.
Your character traits demonstrate what you value and believe in. They are like the windows of your house through which people can see you as who you are.
Here are some common, so-called ‘positive’ character traits: kindness, peaceful, loving, optimism, tolerance, cooperation, adventure, ambition, enthusiasm, confidence, trustful, resourceful, leadership, etc.
We’re all human, so we also we embody character traits that can get us into trouble, including, rudeness, impatience, disrespect, greed, cruelty, unforgiving, pessimism, argumentative, etc. (Source)
Your values are essentially the character traits that you judge to be the most important in your life. There is no right or wrong, only what is most meaningful and what speaks to your purpose. Note that your values can and should change over time, just as you change careers, relationships, where you live, and as you grow and evolve as a person.
Like having a roof overhead that protects you from changes in the environment, your values are the over-arching character traits that protect and guide you in your choices.
How do you know when you are living your core values? What are you doing and saying when you are living your values with integrity? In contrast, what are you not doing and not saying when you are in alignment with your values?
We look to our core values as a compass to find our true north. When you are uncertain about a particular situation, you can ask yourself if partaking would be in alignment with your values or in contravention. Knowing your core values keeps you in alignment with your integrity.
Going back to the house metaphor, your values are like a level used in the construction of the house to determine if surfaces are perfectly horizontal or vertical. Unless you want the house to fall over, you want to build upon a solid and a level surface to remain grounded.
Staying true to your values is demonstrated by making choices that support your beliefs in key areas of your life. If you don’t consciously know why you believe what you believe, there will be a serious disconnect in your decision-making process that may manifest as stress, frustration, not getting what you want, and reacting to situations because you don’t have the prediction and response that comes from the integration of values and beliefs.
What do you believe about money, love, relationships, career, contribution, health, sex, fun, identity, and freedom — just to name a few?
Your beliefs are like the walls of your house. In a sense, your beliefs protect you from the outside world by allowing you to see what’s happening in the environment to create prediction and response. Knowing what you believe and why will help you to withstand and deal with new situations and challenges.
Where did your beliefs come from? Most of us have never considered why we believe what we do about the various life areas above. We might think we know what we believe about money, but if you were to drill down to get to the real ‘Why’ you believe what you do about money, sex, or love (these are often the most contentious of all beliefs) you might realize that you have never considered what these actually mean to you.
For example, after working through my beliefs about money, I defined my most desired belief about money as, “Money is readily available and abundant in my life.” Note that I wrote desired belief because I used to experience stress and frustration around what I perceived as a lack of money. One of the final steps in my belief process was to create emotional alignment for what I wanted to believe about money. My new belief is that money is a free and easy exchange for the value of my ideas and service to others in the form of coaching. Thus, the more value I create that impacts others, the greater my financial reward. That feels easy and liberating to me because I know the value of my work and I believe in what I do.
It’s more than likely what you believe about any of those key areas of life mentioned above are beliefs you were taught, mostly as a child by your parents, or that you later adopted from social groups to fit in and feel accepted by others.
A warning about uncritically held beliefs.
Without a purpose, without a clearly defined understanding of what you believe in and why, and without core values to make choices in alignment with what you stand for, what’s protecting you from going down the wrong path?
If someone presents you with an appealing framework for life that appears to solve all your problems, how will you respond when you learn that the solution is dependent upon the belief that another group of people are less deserving? We see this in various fundamentalist religious beliefs that polarize and dehumanize with anti-Muslim, anti-semitic, and anti-LGBTQ dogma, in radicalized groups that espouse white supremacy with the intention of overthrowing a government they don’t like, or historically, with the Nazi’s so-called “final solution” to rid the “Aryan” population of human beings who were not considered “pure.”
These examples may seem extreme, but indoctrination (the acceptance of a set of uncritically held beliefs) is a slow process. Those who seek to indoctrinate others with their ideology often look for young, uncritical thinkers, and individuals who don’t know what they stand for. These are the conditions for an easily manipulated mind.
Remember what I wrote earlier, that our parents taught us, as children, most of what we think we believe, now as grown adults. This is a form of indoctrination — regardless of the intent — in the sense of teaching an uncritical mind (a child) a system of beliefs.
* Verse 64, “Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained” by Derick Lin.