Defining Values

The following blog post was written by Sydney Coelho, Regent J.D. Class of 2022:  

Last month we discussed defining your “Integrity Standard” and promised to deliver a means to determine that. This month, we’ve delivered.

Matthew 7:15 reminds us, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” (ESV).


Reflecting on the above verse, we are reminded not only not to judge others, but that a tendency in human nature is to judge others. We are further instructed that judgement, without reflection, is hypocrisy. In other words, logically speaking, if it’s human nature to pass judgment, and if judgment without reflection is hypocrisy, then we ought to must, at the very least, equip ourselves with knowledge to avoid—or at least reduce—our hypocrisy. Why does this matter?


Consider ABA Model Rule 2.1 which, for a reminder, states:


In representing a client, a lawyer shall exercise independent professional judgment and render candid advice. In rendering advice, a lawyer may refer not only to law but to other considerations such as moral, economic, social and political factors, that may be relevant to the client's situation.


If we are to give our counsel our clients, are we not casting judgments? That’s a necessary part of our role as an attorney. When we are aware of and in touch with our own weaknesses, we have more compassion for others and are able to make judgments that are tempered by our awareness that we, too, are works in progress and need to be self-aware and open to observations of trusted advisors.  That is the process of taking “the log out of our own eye.” When we make that a regular part of our life, we can offer clients moral advice that is tempered by our own awareness of the challenges of living by moral standards.


As one scholar puts it, “[v]alues and behavior go hand in hand.”[1] As we examine and reexamine the values to which we aspire, we see where we are living according to these values and where we are not.  In that process, we see that the advice to clients we offer is a form of judgment.  Under the influence of Matthew 7:15, we thus remember that we need to ensure we are continually evaluating the correlation between our values and our behavior.  When we do so, we will be in a position to offer moral advice to our clients, regardless of whether that involves advising them to remove a “speck” from their eye or make a more involved change of course.


While there are many ways to define values, this blog post from Psychology Today breaks it down in such an easy way. Breaking the article down further, it’s really all about (1) having an inventory of values; (2) thinking of three people who you look up to and why you look up to them; (3) considering the important things in your life you aren’t willing to sacrifice; and (4) reflecting on when you’ve been the most triggered or conflicted.  By considering these means to clarify our values, we equip ourselves to observe the “beam” in our own eyes if our actions are not consistent with an important value.


We also need to practice self-awareness and be willing to look at ourselves objectively. We ask questions such as: What pushes your buttons and why? You may find a lot of times it’s because a values conflict has arisen. For those who are religious, I add to this list the need to consider the foundational teachings of your religion. Consider the religious teachings, not the religion itself. Be honest with yourself. We are all flawed. There are, undeniably, certain things we practice better than others. For this values list, you should be willing to admit your weaknesses and areas in which you struggle, and then focus your attention on what you practice in making progress toward consistent actions that conform with values. What are your default actions and habits? What right conduct do you do without having to think about it? These, arguably, are your base values.


For Christians, broken down, this may look something like:


The Bible tells us loving your neighbor as yourself is important. Such an act would correlate to value of compassion. Arguably, someone who always listens or lends a helping hand may prioritize compassion for others over other values. Perhaps you may give your time, but you consider your family first. Thus, time with family, is actually one of your highest values. You can determine whether you are adhering to this value by observing whether, in the last month or two, how much time have you spent with family each week.  If you have work obligations, or have volunteered outside the home to help others, your trusted advisors can help you talk through whether that time away from value reflects a lack of commitment to your value of spending time with family, or an appropriate compromise of your time.


So, what do you value? To help you get started, below are two tools you might want to consider. The first is a worksheet, offered for free for those who sign in with LinkedIn. The other is a free tool offered by a nonprofit.


Once you have your values, the next step is to find someone who can advise you. Be sure to check back next month when we begin addressing this topic next month.

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