Otters are my favorite animal. Recently I learned that otters usually spend 9 hours per day cleaning themselves.
Different animals have different values. And yes, values is the word I’m going to use. Our deepest values are biological, based on instincts that are necessary for survival.
And yes, cleanliness and order are an example of one of the 16 (or so) basic values. But not all people have the same values, to the same extent. Some people are more like otters. Others are more like parrots (who apparently place a high value on revenge.)
In fact, what I’ve noticed is that there is a pretty serious problem in that many people don’t realize what their own deep values are. It’s as if these values are so ingrained that it just seems “obvious” that everyone ought to act a certain way.
Let me use a real life example. Washing the dishes.
A woman I know once wrote a long, angry social media post about her boyfriend. She was enraged because he wouldn’t wash the dishes. She could not believe that he was willing to let their family live in filth. She called him abusive, toxic, etc.
She genuinely has no idea what her own values are. She doesn’t realize that cleanliness is a deep value for her, and not for him. So she thinks that when he doesn’t wash the dishes he must be evil, or abusive, or passive-aggressive. Or something.
It’s hard to realize what your own values are because they are often as invisible to you as air. One thing that helped me was a quiz developed by Steven Reiss, author of “Who am I? The 16 Basic Desires that Motivate Our Actions and Define Our Personalities.”
If you struggle to discover your own values, and I believe it’s a very common struggle, there are two other methods you might try. First, ask yourself what small things piss you off. For me, those are clear links to my own values. Because no matter how insignificant the action is, if it offends my deep values, it makes me angry.
Second, imagine yourself on your death bed. What would you regret not doing? Asking about regret seems to connect people to their own values in a way that other questions don’t.
It is a constant struggle to remind myself of what my values are and also to remind myself that other people don’t share them. Because the anger is real. But anger doesn’t have to be a destructive emotion. Sometimes, it can simply be information.
(And by the way, yes. I seem to have very similar values to otters. Very little is more important to me than cleanliness and order.)