One of the goals with students at Titus 2 is to have them examine and evaluate their values, what they believe is important in life, and especially whether or not they are living out their values, whether their conduct is congruent with what they say they value. Examining one’s belief system and integrating it into the decision making process for one’s conduct can go a long way toward motivating internal transformation when external pressure has been unsuccessful. Fundamentally, I believe that one’s inner spirit desires that integrity between belief and conduct…. and, I believe that God desires us to have that integrity.
Last week I had taken some students to a favorite little Thrift Store to which we donate excess clothing and which allows our ladies to shop for needed items without cost. While there I found a little book, “Personal Valuing: An Introduction” by Dale Simmons (1982). The title intrigued me. I have not formally studied value system development. I simply intuitively understood its importance from Scripture’s instruction on “truth in the inner person”.
Then I read this: “The author believes that values are those of our beliefs that define for us the nature of the Good Life, the good ways to behave and to be. We organize our values into systems on an individual level, with each person’s value system being uniquely organized. These systems are dynamic, being continuously reorganized. We incorporate values into the system while we discard old ones and revise priorities. Dynamic changes in our value systems occur in response to internal conflicts as well as to external pressures. Our values provide us with guidelines for interpreting the significance of life events, with the foundations for establishing interpersonal ties and group membership, and with the directions necessary for the construction of a life pathway. We are free to choose those values that will serve us as guides through the increasingly complex set of circumstances we call daily life; we are not free from circumstances, yet we are free to choose how we will deal with those circumstances.
This book is a primer directed to three audiences. (1) the general reader or student interested in what the contemporary social scientist has to say about human valuing; (2) the educator interested in some sort of “road map” through the realm of values education; and (3) the professional psychologist who recognizes that values are central to any understanding of an individual, yet whose professional training has left a huge emptiness about valuing because “psychology is value-free and does not deal with such matters.”
Well, that explains a lot. There was a time in life for many of us when the values of the community were fairly uniform and widely understood and by and large had some congruence with the Judeo-Christian principles that had been held by those who settled this county. Values education was pretty much by osmosis. They were communicated through the words and actions of those around us and, most people generally believed that they served our community well. But somewhere along the line, as psychology and application of psychological theories became more and more foundational in education, business, and other institutions of our culture, the role and significance of values changed dramatically. New “values” replaced old ones……values like the priority of valuing diversity (even in its most extreme and bizarre expressions), individualism, assertion of one’s rights as a higher goal than the expression of the community’s cohesion or well-being of others, and so many other values…..that the concept of “community values” appears to have been lost completely in some circles. The ethics level, which arises out of one’s values system, that I have observed in people is generally that of “self-interest based ethic”, or as my generation expressed it, “If it feels good, do it” or “I have a right to be happy.”
As I have matured, chronologically and spiritually, I have come to understand higher ethics levels, their usefulness and function and, to some degree, how to challenge individuals to move from one level to the next. The hierarchy levels of ethics with which I deal are listed below in reverse order.
1. Self Interest Based Ethics
2. Rules-Based Ethics
3. Values-Based Ethics
4. Virtues- Based Ethics
Each level has its positive and negative aspects and as students are exposed to principles associated with these ethics, eventually we get around to an explicit exploration of these levels in a class. But until that time, they get day by day exposure to the levels as they have to adapt to a communal environment in which the self-interest based ethic of the street has to yield to the rules based ethic of our program while they are exposed to the values based ethic of our instruction and the directed toward the virtues based ethic of the Christian faith. It is a slow and intentional process that usually is met with varying degrees of resistance by the students. It is not a hidden agenda, but it also is just part of the curriculum, so they don’t always get the big picture of the roadmap we are using until 3-5 months into the process. At some point, though, for those who are truly DONE with the past, there generally comes an “Aha! moment” when they say, “This is all starting to make sense.”
That is a moment I yearn to see, to have one “get it”….. and it is the moment that I feel Jesus’ joy as it is expressed in the picture “Jesus laughing.” I believe Jesus delights in that moment when a new disciple is born and comes to see how Jesus’ teaching leads to an entirely new way of viewing life.
There are ladies whom I have had the privilege of teaching who will occasionally say, “I love my life. I am so grateful to God that I learned how to live a new way.” As I tell new students, this isn’t rocket science or brain surgery. Anyone can discover the principles and experience a new way of living. God doesn’t intend the Abundant Life to be mysterious or impossible to find. It’s pretty simple actually. But “simple” does not equal “easy”. Anyone can do it, but it takes effort……humility, teachability, time spent in disciplined study, and trusting God. Some come broken and ready. Some come cautious and guarded. Some come resistant and unwilling. My challenge is to persist with each one long enough to determine whether and how far they are willing to go. I pray to be patient, discerning, and creative enough to find and use the tools that will speak to an individual’s heart and mind. It winds up being a shotgun approach of using many tools. God alone knows which one(s) will be effective and when in each person’s life.
I long ago learned my limits. When I no longer feel I can effectively influence one toward transformation, I stop the process, not because I give up on an individual but because fundamentally I know the work is God’s, not mine…..the timing is God’s, not mine…..the outcome is determined by God, no me. But the group’s well being IS my responsibility and when one’s resistance becomes detrimental to the group’s progress, she has to go. That is a hard call, but it gets easier when one keeps in mind the values that are primary in the program itself. When the program’s values are at risk, the individual’s persistent resistance to them becomes her own decision to remove herself from the process. I’ve also learned through the years that what looks like a program “failure” can itself become the motivation necessary in one’s life for her to embrace the transformation that was being taught. Some just don’t “get it” until they’re looking at it in the rearview mirror.