Hold to your values when others are missing theirs

Honesty and integrity are central to effective human relationships and their weakness or absence can be fatally destructive. It’s arguably become a trend to devalue such values in public and business life, in favour of self-interest. Thus selfishness and narcissism has become more prominent amongst leaders. Yet examining our personal compass can be a healthy activity, even as it is so palpably missing in our leaders.

Professional values

In training to become counsellors, therapists or coaches, to name three helping professions where ethical guidelines are core to their work, attention is devoted to professional ethics. Thus one learns the importance of such values as confidentiality, respect and valuing the person, commitment to the client, client safety, and so on. Professional associations support such values. Often central to these values is honesty and integrity. Following professional values helps build trust and an effective working relationship upon which good work can be done. If such values are broken, trust is destroyed and usually the relationship will be terminated.

The therapist will often follow the practice of self-evaluation in various forms. They may cultivate self-awareness, the ability so much described in this blog of being able to observe what happens for the practitioner concerned and what isn’t serving them that might need to be modified. They may use an experienced fellow practitioner as a supervisor to help this process and strengthen their work.

The weakness of values in the public sphere

Many might say today that in the public sphere, in politics, government and business, such values are seriously lacking. A spectacular recent couple of cases has been the suspected failure of the Prime Minister’s (PM) senior advisor Dominic Cummings to adhere to the public health rules during the pandemic and then the Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has been insisting on such adherence, being caught breaching the rules. Hancock was supported by the PM but shortly after resigned, leaving a question mark over the ethics of the PM, one which many believe to be already seriously tainted. The observer is left with the thought that “it’s one rule for you and another for us”.

Such moral inconsistency is deeply destructive of trust, already seriously in question for a number of years. Many people discount politicians’ values as typical of the breed. Yet non-observance of these values undermines government since people cease to comply when voluntary observance is crucial to the success of operations. That way lies either breakdown in policy or coercion.

Such weakness in leaders is not limited to politicians. Already certain professions are distrusted as being “like that”, such as estate agents or financial advisors. However there have been some spectacular failures in senior business management. A few years ago, the Royal Bank of Scotland led by Fred Godwin almost collapsed after the 2008 crash revealed major miscalculations in how the business was run. During the pandemic the retail business of Philip Green collapsed after a long run of dubious business practices. A book published in 2018 called “Reckless Opportunists” describes the rise of a whole generation of business and political leaders for whom a moral compass and sound leadership in the public good was less important than profit and personal gain. Indeed such characteristics seem commensurate with a heady increase in executive pay.

A moral compass

When society is struggling and leaders are failing to lead, it is arguably incumbent for people to look to themselves. In one sense what is happening “out there” is a reflection of a part of ourselves. This is Jung’s concept of the Shadow. In certain branches of psychology, the shadow contains a disowned part of the self. It is experienced outside us but not owned by us. It might leak out and affect our dealings with others, and others might detect a moral inconsistency in such dealings. We can sometimes detect this in things that keep occurring. It’s like the universe is trying to draw our attention to it. Thus the importance of self-enquiry and self-awareness.

We might not like what is occurring in the world right now, but that doesn’t stop us doing our best to clean up our own act, to maintain the integrity of our moral compass, to hold to principles, and to encourage, and campaign where appropriate, for others to do the same. Heaven knows, the world needs it.

Having trust in a world of lies where things are not as they seem

In today’s digitally dominated and manipulated world it can often feel like there are things that are not as they seem and we are left asking ourselves, “Is that true?” and “Can I trust it?” There is a BBC TV drama currently running, The Capture, in which a man is arrested because he is seen on CCTV attacking a woman who subsequently disappears, when he believes that they kissed and she simply got on a bus. The man seems to be unjustly accused and yet the video evidence is plain. Gradually the investigating police officer realises that the video may have been doctored and what people believe happened was not true. The drama then unfolds around a series of such almost Kafkaesque deceptions. Where is truth, honesty and integrity in such a world of lies? It’s like a complex parable for our times.

Things are not as they seem

To me, this TV programme seemed like this was where we are at as a society at present. Things are not as they seem. What we are being presented with is not necessarily how it is. But what is true? Which version do we believe? Which version is just or unjust? We then are asked to accept the consequences, even as we feel morally outraged. Thus in the UK at present it seems like we are plunged into a culture war around two differing versions of reality.

We are living in a world of “fake news”, misleading statements, manipulation and propaganda, and we encounter alternative versions of reality depending on our perspective. Increasingly, it seems, we no longer can tolerate these different perspectives but think we must impose our own on the other person. Some remark on the rise of a certain sectarianism or fundamentalism, where one side or the other is “right”, where things are black and white and we can’t tolerate reasoned disagreement.

The classic contemporary manifestation is narcissism, the false self. Certain celebrities have become leading politicians on this basis. The narcissist is grandiose and shameless, self-focused, with inflated self-importance, often needing positive reinforcement and adulation from others, and usually being a false construct. Their world is often built around lies and exaggeration. Often they are not as they seem.

How do we live in a world of smoke and mirrors?

Here it is important to have the wisdom of discernment, carried by the owl in certain traditional Native American medicines, the ability to see through things, beyond the smoke and fury of contemporary discourse, the threatening posture of politicians and the battle of politics in many countries right now,

“To thine own self be true”, Polonius says in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. He goes on to say, “And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man”.

In a world seemingly full of falsehood, we are challenged to find our own truth for ourselves, which can involve our ability to explore within and trust in the inner truth and honesty that we find, and, from that space, share with others and ask questions of others that seek to find truth and understanding.

“Cnly connect”, wrote EM Forster, as the epigraph to his novel Howards End, a plea to see and connect with others, even those we disgree with and disapprove of. It’s a challenge of life to reach out to others whom we disagree with. The ability to maintain respect can get lost in these situations, and yet those that we may disagree with are human beings too, who are deserving of our respect even as we may not feel inclined to give it.

Yet the core of all this is trust, trusting our own inner awareness and finding ways to trust others despite what we may feel to be their transgressions. This can involve some exploration, with ourselves and with others, understanding, forgiving and letting go. Many may feel they are not there yet, caught up as they may be in their anger and blame, but at some point this journey will have to be made for healing to occur. There will need to be people to hold that space for others to make that journey.

The inner search for truth

Of course “truth” is likely to be your truth, what you believe to be true. There are often many versions of “truth”. Unless of course you prefer the world of the absolute, like say some given belief others hold, but then you might not find that serves you. Thus people join religious groups and sign up to their belief systems, but after a while decide it is not for them. Something has told them that it does not work for them. We maybe choose to rely instead on our own discernment.

Those who work with others professionally often find that the real truth, one’s own truth, only emerges after some work has had to be done, and people have had to work through layers of their stuff to find and release the inner pain so that the real, underlying truth can be expressed. That’s when people find their authenticity, who they really are, when the layers of the onion are peeled away.

Coming from an authentic space, we can at last be truthful, honest and in integrity. Then what happens is that others believe us, understand us and know where we’re coming from. They can then trust us and work with us. We can then heal together.

Trust is hard won and easily lost. Trust is love-based; lost trust is fear based. Which would you prefer?


Do you allow the opinion of others to affect what you feel and do?

How much does the opinion of others impact what you think, say and do? Many people say to me that one of their greatest fears is of not being thought well of by others. The role of judgement plays a huge part in our lives, more than we’d perhaps care to admit. Yet, it is just worth bearing in mind that it is just that, a judgement.

Consider the role that judgement plays in our lives. For starters there is religion which in an increasingly secular world still plays a huge part, and much religion is about judgement at some level, usually about those struggling to fully practice what the religion preaches. Many of us will, if we’re honest, still feel inside that there’s some higher being watching us and passing judgement on our thoughts, words and actions. So it rubs off.

Judgement plays a big part in our lives

Judgement has also powerfully influenced the development of secularism, despite the latter’s protestations. There’s also legal systems and law enforcement. If one thinks about how judgement works, there’s such things related to it like suspicion, investigation, accusation, defence, exoneration, confession, evidence of guilt or innocence, the verdict, guilt again, the judgement itself, the sentence, punishment, guilt and shame, repentance, admission of weakness, examination of one’s failings, purging, forgiveness, release. Have I left anything out? It’s a big list! And we carry all this around inside us as a means by which we regulate our lives.

It can feel like someone else is regulating our lives, were it not that we are also doing this to ourselves, if we look at this psychologically. What a lot to deal with!

A lot of this can sound part of a system or someone inside us, but let’s not forget that this is also the product of our society and our upbringing, the social consensus. We’re communicating this stuff to each other all the time. We judge each other seemingly all the time. No wonder people can be anxious about what others think.

Except that often they don’t. They are too busy thinking about themselves!

No wonder we need to be aware of the role of judgement in our lives

Being non-judgemental

The practice of mindfulness gives a big emphasis to being non-judgemental about our experience. Rather it encourages us to accept what occurs as phenomena and to rest as the witness, the non-judgemental observer. People development practitioners of various hues will, if their own development has included this, also stress the value of this approach since it frees the client up to explore their own beliefs, attitudes, values and approaches without, it is to be hoped, any sense of interference from the stance of the practitioner.

Carl Rogers said that for healing to take place three core conditions were necessary, congruence, empathy, and respect. They sound good, but they are a challenge to practice and yet still a lesson for life and relationship with others, not just for certain professionals.

Many of us still struggle hugely to respect others, be ourselves, and accept others for who they are too. Instead we invest our energies in making others wrong and then punish them at some level. We seem so unable to accept, live and let be.

Yet to heal the world we need to start with ourselves. “First cast out the beam in your own eye”, said Christ.

Fear of being selfish can limit what’s possible for us

Recently someone told me that she was brought up not to be assertive about what she wanted because that would be selfish. She was taught that “others came first”. In the “me first” society of today that might sound strange and anachronistic. Yet in other cultures, and in parts of Western culture too, it is not uncommon, particularly in older age-groups. Parental and societal rules or injunctions can be introjected by a child and absorbed as their own belief unquestioningly, such that when they are older they hesitate to take a course of action for fear of how they think others might react, or their own sense of guilt at possibly breaking such an injunction to observe what others think is good behaviour. The belief then limits their choices and their ability to advance their own needs effectively and they suffer as a result.

To be selfish is to place one’s own needs well above those of others, or to act in such a way that it negates those other needs. Like many such ethical choices, there are different interpretations of what is selfish. What would be OK with one person might be deemed selfish by another. There may be a collective view of what it means, and then there may be personal ones. The difficulty for some  individuals is that they may limit themselves through an interpretation of selfishness that most others wouldn’t be bothered by. Thus it won’t necessarily serve them.

Unfortunately others can then take advantage of this. It can leave one open to manipulation. Thus if one felt guilty about doing something or was worried about what others might think then those less scrupulous others may then assert their needs at one’s expense. This is often the danger for those who are less assertive or confident, for example.

Letting go of limiting beliefs around being selfish

This is is a good example of where a shift towards personal responsibility and accountability and towards developing self-belief pays dividends. When we identify and shake ourselves loose of limiting beliefs we adopted when very young, we become more able to choose our own beliefs rather than live purely by those of others, and live by values that express who we are. Then we can still act in ways that respect others and their needs but also respect our own too and make choices that can be a win-win, rather than the “they win-I lose” of non-assertiveness. We can be aware of when we feel guilty, recognise where that came from and choose to let it go. Guilt is a messy set of emotions often involving these introjects or out-moded rules and judgements that we took on board and which don’t serve us.

Rather than the word selfishness we can instead hold to the value of respect, where we both value ourselves and others as equally special beings, all God’s creatures and all wonderful. Thus when we approach a decision that affects others a more liberating perspective might be to think of what serves both you and me and all of us, where we all deserve value and respect. Thus we value ourselves and others too.