In my final months in Kenya, the teachers at Rift Valley Academy gave us an exercise. They handed us nine small sheets of paper and told us to write one of our values on each of them. So we did.
They then proposed a question. If, on our way out of the room that night, someone demanded we give up three of them, which values would we give up? Since some of the values were duplicates or were just written down to be silly, this was pretty easy. We tossed the three aside.
Again they asked us a question. If, as we walked out of Centennial Hall after graduation, one of them required us to give up three more values, which ones would we surrender? This took a bit more thought, but was still doable. We now had three left.
Then it got hard. They asked us a final question. If, as we passed through the campus gates, they forced us to give up two more values, what would they be? But each of the remaining three was important. We didn’t want to give them up.
After much deliberation, we slowly put two more aside. Only one value remained, and we were left silent. “Never forget,” a teacher said, “how hard it was to give those values up. Someday, your circumstances will challenge you to do so. Remember how important your values are to you. Don’t surrender them.”
I have since forgotten many of the details of that night. I don’t even remember what value I kept in the end. But the lesson, I remember well.
Values define us. They drive our actions and guide our thinking. When things are tough, don’t give them up.
What of me? What values do I hold onto? There are five essential ones:
My greatest wish for the world is that there would be more love. So important is that desire that it is the central purpose of the Bright Army. There are two particular components of love worth noting.
The first is a recognition of value. When we love someone, be it God, your neighbor, a friend, or ourselves, we acknowledge and celebrate that they have worth. And since I believe that everyone is of value, everyone is deserving of love.
The second piece is an outpouring from within. Like a spring that bubbles up to overflowing, so is love. It comes from our best selves and benefits all that it touches.
Generosity is a manifestation of love. Things like money are a common form of generosity, but I can offer far more. I want to give the world my best. You deserve it. Writing, work, relationships, smiles, and this website are some expressions of that generosity.
In addition, I want to inspire other people to give. Everyone has a gift to offer the world, and it saddens me when such talents are ignored or cast aside. That includes you. I hope you give what you have to offer.
I am extremely privileged. Many cannot even dream of having the education, income, and opportunities that I have. I am grateful for them. People love and respect me – especially my lovely wife Sarah. I’m thankful for that. Dwelling on the blessings puts insignificant things in perspective, brings me joy, and makes me responsible.
From all that I have been given, much is required. That’s a great honor. And so I strive to appreciate and thank people for what they do for me. “Thank you” may be one of the most powerful phrases in all of language. Also I want to use the opportunities that I have to benefit others. Living a life that gives back is the best way to express my gratitude.
I don’t want life to happen to me, but I want to happen to life. It’s too short to waste. And so I seek to act with purpose.
The first way is to have an overarching vision for my life. I want my life to be intentionally meaningful. Spending time thinking about who I want to be and establishing goals for the future are some ways that help me do this. Then I act on those thoughts and make those goals happen.
The second area touches the everyday. All activities should contribute to my broader vision or add value in some way, either to others or to myself. Writing, building relationships, learning, thinking, helping others are some important ways of doing this. But so are things like sleeping and relaxing. My aim is to be intentional with how I use my time.
While I accept that I will always be dependent on people – and that’s a good thing – I am still my own person. Likewise, others are their own person as well. That’s why I value the freedom of personality, freedom of action, and freedom of others.
Freedom of personality means that I decide who I want to be. As a human being, I have a fundamental and unique value. I am who I am and not anyone else. It’s up to me to determine my values and attitudes toward life.
Out of that comes the freedom to choose my actions. That is a responsibility to myself and who I am. And as the one who made the choice, I openly accept the consequences that come from it.
As much as I value my own freedom, I treasure the freedom of others. They are valuable too. I seek to avoid actions that limit other people’s freedom. For example, I am able to slander anyone I want – it’s free speech after all – but doing so takes away their freedom. Also, I strive to do things that increase the freedom of others – especially those that have little or none to start with.
Those are my values. What about you? What values will you never give up?
Even a baboon won’t give up his values. I made this photo at Baboon Cliff in Nakuru, Kenya.