How do we go about discovering values?

Some examples of values that Frankl talks about are: the defiant power of the human spirit (freedom to take a stance towards one’s physical and psychic states), humor, awareness of one’s uniqueness and self-worth, humor, responsibility, self-transcendence, dedication to a cause, self-transcendence, autonomous decisions (intentionality), appreciation for art and music, commitment to tasks, faith, belief in the unconditional meaning of life, hope, optimism, awareness of mortality, love, self-detachment, ability to laugh at one’s self, conscience (religious and ethical sensitivity) and more.

We can add to this list many things that I’m sure Frankl would agree are values, things like compassion, forgiveness, ability to set goals, courage, responsibility, integrity, acceptance of one’s gifts, mindfulness, enthusiasm, perseverance, gratitude, welcoming of challenges, resolve, prioritizing, self-restraint, setting boundaries, putting feelings temporarily aside, discipline, kindness, judging favorably, empathic listening, generosity, sensitivity to the needs of others, respect for others property and person, dignity, seeing the good in others, honest communication, equanimity, seeing alternatives, being open to all possibilities, humility, modesty, patience, tolerance, resilience, honesty, conscientiousness, genuineness, admitting the truth and curiosity.

However, as long a list we could make, and we could make it much longer than this, it would not describe the meaning of a value as long as it is not seen within the context of an individual person’s life at a distinct moment in time.

We often make the mistake of thinking that because something is a value we always have to do it. But it is not necessarily right for a particular person in a particular situation. Someone can be out giving to the world and neglecting self and family. Alternatively someone can ignore a meaningful opportunity to contribute to the world.

Values are realized when they address us as a meaning, when we have comprehended our calling at a particular moment in time, the unique purpose of our life at that moment. When we can hear what we are here for, and when we give expression to the value that is out there in the world, we have become part of the greater whole of evolving creation and we have realized the value.

A favorite movie comes to mind: Planes, trains and automobiles. There was a moment at which the hero of the story is on the train tracks, about to go home, when he gets a flashback. (I won’t spoil it for you by telling you what happens next.)

Since the response to meaning in the form of finding and expressing values is such an individual matter and in fact a one-time phenomenon every minute of every day, we cannot possibly make up a list of values in actuality in spite of the long list above, and we cannot tell anyone else what is the value he or she needs to fulfill.

Values are presented to us as a task. It is up to each of us to fulfill it, to live up to life’s challenges, to take opportunities.

So Frankl categorizes values in a general way. There are creative values by which we make a meaningful contribution to the world, experiential values by which we receive life’s blessings and attitudinal values by which we face up to pain, guilt and death through an attitude or perspective that will give it meaning.

But Frankl never explains why it is meaningful to contribute to, receive from or take a stance towards what is happening. He does say that logotherapy addresses the human in us in the higher sense, that we want our lives to be meaningful and have purpose and that values are part of the spiritual (higher human) dimension.

One statement I believe gets to the core of why these things are values to begin with and why the self is actualized only through the fulfillment of values and why values can only be realized by unique individuals in unique situations.

Frankl writes: “I deem it to be a remarkable fact that man, as long as he regarded himself as a creature, interpreted his existence in the image of God, his creator; but as soon as he started considering himself as a creator, began to interpret his existence merely in the image of his own creation, the machine.” (The Will to Meaning, p. 16)

In other words, we have been created in God’s image.

The world of psychology will not appreciate the contribution of logotherapy until it comes to appreciate the healing power in knowing that we have been created in God’s image. Frankl once intercepted a suicide note written by a hospital patient who had just lost a leg. He challenged the person by saying, “A beetle missing a leg would have no reason to live because there’s nothing left for him to do, but the value of a human being is so great, it cannot possibly be taken away by losing a leg.” In this way Frankl evoked the person’s valuing of his own life. The patient subsequently decided life was worth living after all.

And if someone is not contemplating suicide is it not still a supreme value and obligation on the part of the therapist to assist him or her in discovering the values to be realized in their particular situations, by which they can fulfill the task set out for them for this life they’ve been blessed with?

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