On Values

“Values don’t matter unless they describe behaviors and people are held accountable for them.”

@PaulSchmitz1

Those words have been echoing in my brain ever since I attended the AADO-CASE Conference on Diverse Philanthropy and Leadership last week. What do I value? Where do I spend my time? Who do I spend my time with?

Thinking about these things in the middle of a pandemic is a particular struggle. When where I spend all my time is in front of my computer and who I spend time with is my housemate and the woodchucks that live under the front steps. But that’s a facetious answer. I spend my time with people on Slack and Skype, Zoom, Discord, Signal and Messenger. I scroll on Twitter and Tumblr and Instagram, I reluctantly grace Pinterest and Facebook proper with my presence on the rarest of occasions. I frequently log into LinkedIn, and I check up on the blogs I follow on WordPress. And then when I’m thoroughly saturated in the online world I shut it all off, stare blankly at the wall, and try to close my eyes, which are burning from screen exposure, my head that never fully recovered from all those concussions I had aching.

Sometimes I’ll try reading a book, but reading books is so hard now, when I can barely force my brain to focus on more than one thing at once. I switch from book to book to book, I try writing, but I can barely get a paragraph down before I start writing a different story, or a different essay. Right now I’m flip flopping between a lack of hunger that is apathy at its finest and a desire to eat everything in sight. These feelings are unlike any depression or anxiety I’ve felt before, because the main emotion is confusion. I try to fall back on the tactics I’ve used before that ground me: meditation, hot showers, the occasional bubble bath. I remind myself of my name, where I am physically in that moment, what that place means to me and how I got there. Though inevitably that leads to introspection and sometimes even an ungrounding as I am brought back to this eternal question — what do I value? Not just what do I think is important, but what do I demonstrate is important?

Someone said to me once, that there is always time and space for the things that matter most to us, because if we put them above all else, we will make time. And to a certain degree I cannot deny that definition of value. At the same time, I wonder about whether that definition of value is too narrow. I wonder if that definition of value doesn’t give enough credit to the idea that before one can act on one’s values, and turn them into behaviors, they have to first be developed and formed. At the same time, should we really be thinking of values as an endpoint at which one arrives? Values are not a destination. Values are a journey. Values are something we live by. In modern Doctor Who lore there is a big deal made out of something first verbalized by the Eleventh Doctor: “Never be cruel, never be cowardly.” And this struck me as a bit hollow, because it seemed like an impossible standard. So I appreciated when the Twelfth Doctor expanded on it, to add “and if you ever are, always make amends.” The idea is, if you do act in a way contrary to your values, and they are truly important to you, then equally important is not only making up for lapses but acknowledging that those lapses are inevitable, and accounting for them when imparting your values on others.

It’s not enough to say that, if you care about someone and value them you will always have time for them. That is an absolute, and I don’t believe in absolutes. I believe, that if you care about someone, about something, if you value that object, that person, that ideal, you will take care of it, of them, to the best of your ability, you will protect it, and when you fail, you will do your best to make up for your mistakes how your can.

I don’t believe in absolutes. I believe in the impossible, including that the impossible is impossible. I think that there is no limit to what humanity is capable of, from acts of incredible kindness to acts of unspeakable horror. It’s all about what we value, and how that value impacts our lives. How our lives have shaped us. So when I consider — what do I value? I look at the shape of my life and the choices I’ve made, and honestly, I’ve found that while I’m not precisely unhappy with where I have found myself, there is a lot to be desired in terms of what I do and how I spend my time. I feel as though I want more from life, but I don’t know exactly what that more is. And so I come back to that question — what do I value?

One way to think about values is to think about civil rights. The rights of those who are marginalized and minoritized. Given that I’m a multiracial neurodivergent nonbinary polytheistic polyamorous queer witch I know a thing or two about marginalization. Those labels come with a lot of baggage, and unpacking the suitcases might take a while, but the thing is, I value those labels, because using them gives me a clearer sense of who I am and who I want to be. I’ve always been someone who feels more comfortable existing within a framework, but at the same time has never felt comfortable within any of the existing frameworks. What I value is the ability to carve out my own space in the world. And while that’s difficult to do when the world is pressing in on all sides…. it’s beautiful. And I love it.

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