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How we govern our thoughts and emotions define our values and beliefs, which will determine our standards, that direct our habits and systems, which decide our destiny. While there are many entire books written just on thoughts and emotions, I’m going to focus on values in this article. What are some key values that help people achieve extraordinary outcomes, while other people, even hard working people, still get ordinary outcomes?
What History Says About Extraordinary Outcomes
The book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond, makes the case that history shows us there are multiple factors that explain how individuals and groups of people make significant improvements to their situation. This usually involves some new understanding or learning, that eventually leads to the improvement. New learning or new knowledge is key.
The book, Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order, by Ray Dalio, makes the case that history provides a general pattern on how nations rise in power. Basically, it starts with a focus on education or learning, that leads to increased innovation, which results in eventual economic advantage. The book also makes a point that character, civility, and work ethic should be a consideration of the education.
There are also books that promote how specific religions, governments, and business or economic frameworks create extraordinary outcomes for societies. They have some compelling points with evidence to back them up. However, I offer the idea that education, religion, government, and business are systems, which are based on something more important.
All systems are dependent on people, who are guided by personal values, that are created by their thoughts and beliefs. You can take the exact same system and make it the responsibility of multiple individuals or groups of people and you will probably get very different results from each, even with similar environments. The main variables are the thoughts and emotions that define the values and beliefs of the individuals or groups of people.
What History Says About Values and Systems
Humans naturally value freedom, and many claim it should be a basic human right, but all rights are subject to some kind of responsibilities. Human nature is selfish and prideful, as all major religions will confirm, and it takes personal growth and responsibility to overcome our selfish prideful human nature and agree to specific responsibilities that ensure rights for groups of people. Agreement on rights and responsibilities always depend on shared values, and result as systems. The three basic systems that affect human rights and responsibilities, are religion, government, and business.
Religion seems to be more focused on internal values for standards of behavior to provide internal freedom and implicit rights. Government seems to be more focused on external rules for standards of behavior (that are always based on specific values) to balance power and provide specific external freedoms and explicit rights. Business seems to be more focused on providing useful products and services that help people to exercise their rights and fulfill their responsibilities.
Of course different religions, governments, and business frameworks prioritize different values and rights, and ways to balance power, maintain order, and provide freedoms (depending on the leadership). Often times this has to do with the inherent tension between power and order, and freedom and creativity. The more freedoms groups of people are provided, over time, the more likely there is to be differing opinions and ideas on how the power should be balanced and order maintained. When done right, with the right values, this provides the best balance of power and order, and freedom and creativity.
However, human nature often tempts people in thriving communities with a lot of freedom, to demand more freedom, with less responsibility and effort, which naturally threatens power and order, which depends on responsibility. On the other hand, the less power is balanced and the more that power consolidates and extends beyond necessary order, it starts to infringe on freedoms and creativity. The common denominators of these two challenges is pride, selfishness, and fear. Whether the challenge is wanting more freedom than the current power can orderly provide, or wanting more order than the current freedoms allow.
It is also helpful to consider how religions, governments, and businesses each have their own internal power/order and freedom/creativity dynamics. The challenge is to acknowledge that people in any organization naturally perform better when they feel cared for, safe, and that they are treated fairly, and put checks and balances in place to recognize and mitigate internal power consolidation. This is why government usually has some kind of oversight of the religion and business systems, and the best governments have healthy checks and balances.
The Greek historian Polybius wrote about the three core types of government in his books, The Histories. He pointed out that there are only three types of governments the rule of one, the rule of a few, and the rule of many. He also observed and noted that governments have cycles of change, from growth, to climax, to decline, and back to growth. The rule of one could be a monarchy or a tyranny. The rule of a few could be an aristocracy or an oligarchy. The rule of many could either be a democracy or mob rule.
It seems like these can be combined. Consider how the U.S. has a three part government with an executive branch of the President (rule of one) who can create laws by executive order, a judicial branch (rule of a few) who settles conflicts which clarify laws and create boundaries for laws, and the legislative branch (rule of many) who thinks and debates on societal trends in order to create laws. This is what many people refer to as a republic and a democracy, or a democratic republic, with carefully crafted checks and balances of power. However, it is not perfect, and it has issues, mostly rooted in people of power wanting to grow and consolidate their power.
Polybius also pointed out that each type of government has the potential for good or bad outcomes, and it depends on having a constitution that balances power, and how the rule of law is established and maintained. Considering a constitution and the rule of law, they could also be considered on a sliding scale, with collaboration and freedom on one end, and control and force on the other end. When people feel like their leaders are respectful and invite them to collaborate in their future (voting), the people tend to be more respectful of the leaders. When people feel like the leaders resent them and want to control them, the people tend to be more resentful towards the leaders. Respect and resentment are resulting feelings of how people view their leaders values of caring, humility, integrity, and courage.
I believe the founders of America were very wise to highlight life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence. Everyone values their life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This raises the question what practical values actually prove that we value life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? I offer the idea that the common shared values of caring, humility, integrity, and courage stand out as how people express their value of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. How does human nature work into this?
What Human Nature Says About Extraordinary Outcomes and Values
Thinkers have diligently studied human nature for thousands of years. More recently, the science of psychology and sociology have studied human nature through a scientific method (mostly). There are timeless, and priceless, books on human nature, written even before our modern science of psychology and sociology. Consider the sacred documents of the major religions, like the Bible (especially the book of Proverbs). Consider the classic books of ancient Philosophers like Plato’s book The Republic, and Plato’s student Aristotle, who wrote the very popular books Ethics, Poetics, and Politics. Or consider Polybius’ books, The Histories. By the way, these are free downloads at https://www.gutenberg.org.
You can also find many more classic books for free at the Gutenberg website, including works by Shakespeare, and the books Moby Dick, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, The Art of Money Getting, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, A Tale of Two Cities, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Ulysses, The Illiad, The Odyssey, The Call of the Wild, Les Miserables, Crime and Punishment, War and Peace, The War of the Worlds, and last but not least The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and the King James Version Bible, along with many more free books. I enjoy books because they invite us to think of things in new ways, and to better care for ourselves and others.
Why and how are these works still popular thousands of years after they were written? They are either very entertaining, reveal many integral truths to help people better care for themselves and others, or both. The main thing they all have in common is the idea that humans have great potential, but many things challenge our potential, like fear, and selfishness and pride (whether in ourselves or others), and we need help governing our thoughts and beliefs, to carefully prioritize values that allow us to overcome challenges, identify good opportunities, and make good choices. This is where the practical values of caring, humility, integrity, and courage shine.
Thinking could be considered a superpower. Our ability to think into the future and anticipate what might happen can help us make better choices. Our ability to think back on the past and learn from our choices can help us make better choices in the future. The beauty is we can also learn from others by thinking about their decisions, or reading books they wrote for us. Consider the websites, https://YourLogicalFallacy.is, and https://YourBias.is. Those sites explain fallacies and bias’ that can help you be a better thinker, and identify when other people’s thinking is not helpful.
However, this thinking superpower can get out of control if we don’t deliberately manage it. Our thoughts can spiral downwards quickly, and increase our anxiety and fear if we don’t stop them. Our thoughts can also spiral upwards, and send us on unrealistic paths of time discounting, where we over value our resources and the near-term situation at the cost of our long-term future. Extreme negative and positive thoughts and emotions need to be tempered. While we are not responsible for every thought or emotion we have, we are responsible for what we do with them. We basically have three options when we have a new thought or emotion, embrace it, replace it, or investigate it.
All things being equal in any given environment, studies show that people with a more positive growth mindset believe they can learn and improve from any situation. This makes them more likely to open their mind to new ideas that could help them in the future. The more we understand how we naturally think, or how people around us naturally think, the better we are at identifying which thoughts and emotions to embrace or replace, and the better decisions we make and the better we can help and encourage others.
A popular human nature theory, in the field of psychology, is the Big Five Personality Traits, which could be considered natural personal values, which are openness, conscientiousness (attention to details and responsibility), extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (inclination to anxiety or fear). A good way to think of these is with a sliding scale where one end is the high end and the other is the low end, and we all have a baseline for each trait, but it can change in any given moment depending on the situation and how we govern them or manage them.
Another personality assessment that I personally feel is very helpful is the DiSC assessment. This basically helps people understand whether they are more Dominant (achievement oriented), influencers (people oriented big picture driven), Steadiness (people oriented, content and cooperative), or Conscientious (detail oriented and quality focused). What I find helpful about this is that it’s easy to remember and often easier to notice in other people. Understanding the core of our personality helps us to make better decisions and understanding the core of other people’s personality can increase our influence.
I believe there is a specific combination of the Big Five Personality traits that tend to be more helpful to an individual or group of people who want to improve their situation, and often lead to extraordinary outcomes. People with a more open state are more likely to be humble and accepting of new information that may provide a better way of doing things. A more conscientious state is more likely to respect integrity and pay attention to more details and courageously seek the truth to help provide a better long-term future for the greater good. Some level of disagreeableness can be helpful in finding better ways of doing things.
People often say time is our most valuable resource. I believe truth is our most valuable resource because it allows us to make the best use of our time. But truth is sometimes resisted by people because it often disrupts a status quo that rewards them. However, many times disruption brings greater rewards in the future, if it is refined and worked out. Extraversion can be good because it often involves sharing ideas. However, introversion can also be good because it often involves careful thinking of ideas in anticipation of the future. A less agreeable state combined with a more conscientious state can be very helpful for accountability, as long as it is not extreme.
Combine a more open and conscientious person, who is a bit disagreeable, and you get what I would call a pioneering spirit. Consider the people back in the 1500s to the early 1700s (or many people today) who chose to leave their established societies and risk their lives traveling on a long journey across the ocean in a wooden boat, for just a chance to start a new life in America. No doubt they were open to new experiences. They must have felt a high level of responsibility for their lives. While extraversion might not have been a factor, they were probably not as agreeable as most people, since they left the certainty of their present situation for an almost completely uncertain situation.
This reminds me of how fear and excitement have similar physical symptoms, the main difference is how we chose to view the uncertain future. The vast majority of people back then thought of sailing across the ocean and starting a new life in a new land as a scary adventure, full of risk, while a few pioneering spirits considered it exciting, with many possible rewards. This also reminds me of the two most important processes in any organization (religion, government, business, or family) which are leadership and culture. There are many good books on leadership and culture that explain how we can practically leverage the positive side of human nature to help organizations thrive. How can we prioritize the character ethic over the personality ethic, and still value both?
Thoughts On How To Create a Historic Future
To bring it all together, as societies go through the growth cycle and mature from growth to climax, there is some kind of connection with a consolidation of power, which seems to be related to societal decline. With a consolidation of power, many leaders become inclined to be less humble and more fearful of pioneering spirits and disruptive innovation. This can often lead to movements from respectful collaboration for freedom to resentful control by force.
While the phase of societal decline often ends with violent conflict, it doesn’t have to, as that always diminishes a societies resources and talent, and makes the society less competitive. The question is, how can the society minimize the decline and move back to the growth phase without violent conflict? I believe it starts with the shared values of caring, humility, integrity, and courage, which inspires people to be more respectful, and to collaborate with others. These shared values are worth conserving and passing down to younger generations.
Fortunately, more recent science and observations have allowed us to recognize how leaders can maintain their caring, humility, integrity, and courage. This is best done by surrounding themselves with strong people who hold these key shared values. Not only do thoughts and emotions influence others, but values also influence others, not only from the top down, but also from the bottom up. People can choose to collectively hold themselves, and their leaders, to higher standards and shared values, but it starts with the individual personal growth.
We may rise or fall based on our actions, but it is how we govern our thoughts and emotions that build our beliefs and values, which ultimately determine our actions. I wonder about people who feel like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are rights that no person can take away, but they also do not believe in God, or any Higher Power. If someone believes there are any rights that no other person can take away, but they claim to not believe in God, or a Higher Power, they must subconsciously feel there is a God or Higher Power where those rights came from.
I find it very interesting that the founders of America were aware of the lessons history has provided, and they carefully crafted a Declaration of Independence that highlighted the importance of a Higher Power, many times. They also carefully crafted a constitution that established a three part government with checks and balances to manage power and maximize freedoms. Last but not least, they carefully crafted a business framework of capitalism that directly, and proportionally, rewarded effort, which inspires a strong work ethic in most people.
They did all this while having deeply held differing values about government processes and economic processes. How? They agreed to a process on how to disagree and still make a choice, based on the greater good, or majority vote, with shared values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I personally believe that Christianity, the United States constitution, and capitalism are great systems, especially when governed by shared values of caring, humility, integrity, and courage.
Some Key Values of the Bible
One could argue the value of love is an important part of the Old Testament (Lev 19:18, Deu 11:1, and Ps 136), and it is the foundation of the entire New Testament. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (Jn 3:16). Neither death or life, or angels or rulers, or things present or to come, or powers, or height or depth, or anything else in all creation, can separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord (Ro 8:38-39). For by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous (Ro 5:19). Faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love (1 Cor 13:13). Put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, as the Lord has forgiven you. Above all of these put on love, which binds everything together (Col 3:14). Hate stirs up anger, but love covers offenses (Pro 10:12). If anyone says, “I love God,” and hate my brother, he is a liar; for who does not love others who they have seen cannot love God who they have not seen (1 Jn4:20). Jesus said… Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind. This is the great and first commandment. A second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Mt 22:37-40). Jesus also said… Love one another as I have loved you. By this all people will know you are my disciples (Jn 13:34-35).
The three key values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness reminds me of a couple Bible verses, we are made in God’s image as a spirit, with a soul, in a body (2 Thess 5:23). Life-Spirit, liberty-soul, and the pursuit of happiness-body. The other Bible verse it reminds me of is, God gave you a spirit not of fear but of power, love, and self control (2 Tim 1:7). Power, as in personal power, or the free will to choose. Power-life-Spirit, love-liberty-soul, and self control-pursuit of happiness-body.
Bible verses on caring include the previous verses on love others along with Pro 6:16, Lk 6:31 and 6:38, Phil 2:4, Gal 5:14, 6:2, and 6:10, Eph 4:15-16 and 4:25-26.
Bible verses on humility include Pro 11:2 and 22:4, James 4:10, Eph 4:2, and 1 Pt 5:5.
Bible verses on integrity include Pro 6:16, 10:9, and 19:1, Ps 112:4-5, 2 Cor 8:21, Phil 4:8, and 1 Pt 3:16.
Bible verses on courage include Ps 112:6-8, Jos 1:9, Jn 16:33, and 2 Tim 1:7.
Bible verses on being open include Pro 3:5-6, Ro 12:2, James 4:13-15, and Phil 4:13.
Bible verses on being conscientious include Pro 6:16 and 20:23, Ro 1:18-20, Eph 4:15, and Jn 1:17.
Bible verses on being disagreeable include Ro 12:2, Mt 4:3-10, Gal 5:18 & 25-26, Jn 14:27 and 16:33.
Bible verses on fighting fear include Ps 23, and 112:6-8, Mk 5:36, 2 Tim 1:7, and Jn 14:27.