Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ain't No Big Mystery

There are some big mysteries—why men shave every day, why women live with men who don’t shave every day, why children won’t listen to their parents, and why we hate the people we elect.

Those are the big mysteries. However, why people act the way they act is no mystery at all. A long-time friend and Seattle psychiatrist, Owen E. Clark, M.D., once explained this to me, “People do what they do for the rewards they get from doing it.” In other words, you can look behind every behavior and find some important way in which the behavior rewards the doer. Even the behaviors they hate. Even the self-destructive behaviors. All behaviors offer some reward that the doer values at the moment of choice.

Here’s the big secret that dispels all mystery: values drive behavior. We are prone to act in ways that bring valued rewards.

Of course, we can all think of someone who seems to act contrary to expressed values. A man values family life. Yet, he embezzles from his employer, ends up in prison, and loses his family. Were values driving his behavior? Of course! Maybe not his family values, but other values that took priority at the moment of choice.

The reason the picture seems confusing is that our values systems are very complex. There are so many human values that every possible choice is potentially rewarding in some way. In this respect, we can say that values are always competing with each other. At any given moment, one value ascends (moves toward the top of our priority list) while others decline into positions of lesser importance. At a different moment, the order may reverse depending on what reward is being sought. Throughout life we attempt to clarify our values, sort them out, learn in what settings one value ascends and in what settings it declines. Future blogs will explain what an understanding of values has to do with public speaking. For now, please remember that values drive behavior.

Learning Activity

Read the following list of values that seem to be universal (or nearly so). Notice which values might influence choices that you make.

Partial list of values:

Acceptance of fate, Achievement, Ambition, Art (music, literature) appreciation, Authority, Choice, Craftsmanship, Creativity, Curiosity, Devoutness, Equality, Family security, Freedom, Healthy environment, Honesty, Humility, Independence, Inner peace, Justice, Meaningful life, Personal health, Personal safety, Pleasure, Productivity, Recognition, Recreation, Respect for heritage, Self-respect, Sense of belonging, Social order, Success, Tolerance, Wealth, Work, World peace, Etc.

Chances are good that in the proper setting any one of these values might influence your choices.

© Frank Richardson, 2009.

email: swpubs@xmission.com

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