I have a friend who is a feminist. She stands for the ideals of equality. She believes in a just society where all genders can exist in harmony with no violence or aggressions. I became close to her because of this camaraderie I felt for a fellow feminist. How wonderful it is, I thought, to have a kindred spirit as a friend, to be able to share opinions and thoughts with someone who is so intimate to me through our shared values. Over the course of several years, I began to find discrepancies in this friend’s said values and her behaviour. Several of her actions were so un-feminist that I had a difficult time understanding her. I was trying so hard to prove to myself that my feminist friend is just blind-sided. It was possible that she didn’t realise that her actions don’t meet her values. I thought if I nudge her, she would see the truth. This is where I was wrong.
This friend is imaginary. I use her as a type-cast to represent the many people I have met in life whose values just don’t match with their actions. They might be the most idealistic person who talks about revolution and justice but their actions would be something else. Through therapy I learnt that the best way to actually know a person is not through what they profess themselves to be, but through their actions. I realised that one’s values can be ascertained only through one’s behaviour.
It is perplexing to learn how so many people live their lives without realising their authentic values. For many, values are readymade ideals that sound moral. Values like freedom, honesty, independence, family, community, etc sound so virtuous that it is so tempting to adopt them for ourselves. Whether or not they actually suit our needs is never questioned. For example, I have a friend who says that she values freedom the most. However, this value doesn’t translate into her practical life where she lives as a subservient wife to her husband, depending on him to make decisions or spend money. From the actions of this friend it is clear that she doesn’t really value freedom. If she did, she won’t be what she is. Why is there a discrepancy between what she thinks she is and what she actually is? I realised that people usually borrow values that sound righteous or fashionable with no awareness of what those values actually mean for them.
Here is what I have concluded from my self-work: in order to understand my values, I need to pay attention to my behaviour. I might think that I value knowledge, but if I don’t spend a single hour in a week reading or learning anything, then knowledge certainly is not my value. The popular notion is to say, “Act according to your values.” In reality, it is actually our actions that help us determine what our values are. I think the same principle can be applied to understand ourselves and others. Because my feminist friend didn’t act so feminist, I thought it wasn’t good to make friends based on values because it would only lead to disappointment. However, the problem here was not that. The problem was my misjudgment of the friend’s values. In order to understand what another person is, examine their actions. Through them, we can know their true values and through this estimation, we can decide on what the nature of our relationship with this person is going to be.