Finding our values when we are afraid

Jeff Salter

In different times, I do a values exercise with the leaders I work with. The intention is to help them locate the ‘top 6’ strengths or personal qualities that they most want to express in their leadership lives and then look at ways they can enact them. What is it that we stand for? When we’re confronted by many people wanting different things, how do we stay rooted to behaviours and responses that make us proud of ourselves?

Suddenly, we’re being confronted by ourselves, not others. We have time to think. And through the shroud of fear that is now permeating all of our lives, it is a challenge to not only think clearly but to behave in ways that are consistent with what we say we value in less stressful times.

I was fairly confident I stood for some good values. Being authentic in my relationships, seeing the lightness and humour in life, embracing self care so I can care better for others, for example. Fast forward to three weeks in lockdown. How are my ‘noble truths’ playing out?

My path to ‘self-care’ has been to put on several pounds in a three week festival of wine, peanuts and biscuits. Being light and full of humour becomes less easy when you are checking graphs of infection rates several times a day. My supposed ‘authentic’ self has transformed  into regular harangues, moral outrage and anger against an array of individuals and groups who don’t say or who I feel aren’t acting in my or my family’s best interests.

We are living in scary times. The threat we are facing is real not imagined. We are justified in our feelings of terror, anger and pain. But if global fear has any upside, it’s that it can unite us. Because when we are in real danger, we tend to mobilise rather than stay paralysed for long and remembering what is important to us galvanises to act in ways we can be proud of.

The stories of heroism, putting our ourselves before others, small and large acts of kindness, dogged determination and refusal to be cowed are there to be found. Like Tom Moore, the 99 year-old World War II veteran raising millions (£6 million at the time of writing) for the NHS by completing laps of his garden with his walking frame before his 100th birthday. Like Albert Connor not being able to sit with his wife through chemotherapy for breast cancer in Texas, so positioning himself on the pavement in her view through the window with a sign saying: ‘I can’t be with you but I’m here with you. Thank you to all the staff’.  Like Jacinda Ardern, NZ Prime Minister confirming at a press conference that both the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny are essential workers so are able to keep providing their services for the nation’s children. Like the children’s rainbow drawings supporting key workers placed in windows all over the UK. Challenge, love, humour and hope.

There is a scene from  ‘Starman’, a wonderful 1980’s film starring Jeff Bridges who stars as an alien stranded on Earth who, at the end of the film,  when asked about his experience before he leaves says: ‘Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you? You are at your very best when things are worst’.  Locating values through the lens of fear, such as those above, gives hope to us – and maybe can offer a template for who we, individually and collectively, want to be when we (and the workplaces that were so important to us) finally emerge from this.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash