WHAT ARE VALUES? Is Your Choice a Principle or a Preference?
In one of my all-time favorite quotes, Thomas Jefferson said, “In matters of taste swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.” I have lived that quote, and it has helped me gain clarity about my values.
What are Values?
Values are rock-solid principles. Principles or values are the black-and-white stuff. Concrete right and wrong. They are the bedrock foundation upon which you build your life, your business, and your character. Values are the non-negotiables of life. Another way to discern your values or principles is to ask yourself what would you hold to regardless of the cost. Values are things that you will stand up for even if the stance costs you.
For example, honesty is one of the bedrock values for many. Teri moved to a new town by herself, a single Mom, with no contacts and when the leader of her newly joined organization asked her to write an illegal check, she quit on the spot. No backup plan. And no long deliberation is required.
With strongly held values, you ask with swiftness. That is the benefit of understanding your values—it saves you a lot of thinking, stewing, and analyzing. You hold to them no matter what. You “stand like a rock.”
Preferences are Not Principles or Values
However, not all areas of life represent values and principles. Some areas represent practices, preferences, and policies. I think of these as gray areas. Methods or personal preferences should be grasped lightly. “Matters of taste” are not sacred. Figure out the difference.
If you make a big deal out of every preference (and treat it as a principle), then you just come across as a “my way or the highway” kind of person. And that’s hard to live with. And that level of inflexibility will make you brittle. Preferences are things you will probably have to compromise along the way. Flex. Get over it. Go with the flow. Chill out.
But Here’s the Hard Part
Some preferences or practices, however, may be part of your values. What some people see as preferences, you may view as principles and vice versa. For example, in one company, a woman quit her job because she believed firmly that promotion should come from within. When the company did not do that, she felt their practices violated her conscience and principles and she quit.
So be it. Honor that in yourself.
Application: Decide what is a principle and a preference to you. “In matters of taste, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock. Know the difference.