Dealing with Real and Imagined Obstacles

This is Hubris: 28 March 2021 edition. In this issue I want to talk about dealing with real and imagined obstacles. 

Welcome to Part 4 in this series on conducting a values assessment. Part 1 was about foundational values, the things that are in theory universal to all of us. Part 2  discussed personal values, and using them as daily touchstones. In part Part 3 I covered what Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus call minor values, the little things that make life better. Today we’re at the end and looking at the concept of imaginary values, which act as obstacles in your life.

This was the category that took me the longest time to get my head around. These are obstacles that masquerade as values. They influence your thoughts and actions, in ways that often seem reasonable and justified. All they really do is make it harder for you to live your other values. That’s why I spent the most time contemplating these. Figuring out all of the other stuff is pointless if you have these hurdles in the way.

After brainstorming and comparing my list to The Minimalists’ example, these are my personal imaginary values. I’ll explain my rational for each, in the hope of making this concept clearer.

Imaginary Values

  • Anger: Without going into my life story I carry a lot of anger around. The world is largely a cruel and unjust place, and that’s wrong. Bad people get away with unspeakable things, and good people are exploited and made to needlessly suffer. While anger can be a motivating force, as long as it’s channeled into constructive activities, I too often rationalize it. That means that I don’t examine it too closely, look for root causes, or try to diffuse it.
  • Contempt for Ignorance: People who deny facts and perform intellectual gymnastics to avoid reality infuriate me. We live in a world where all manner of information is literally at our fingertips, yet some people choose to embrace conspiracy theories, superstitions, and harmful ideologies. Like anger, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Where it becomes problematic as a value is that it keeps me from connecting with people, learning how they got to these weird dark places, and figuring out how to maybe guide them back into the light.
  • Contempt for Selfishness: It’s just a lack of compassion and empathy, an utter disregard for how one’s actions might negatively impact other people. As with ignorance, though, I tend to tune out the people that are being selfish, dismissing them as one-dimensional cartoon villains with simple motives. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes, though, there are complex issues and I end up missing the bigger picture. Which means I could end up fighting the wrong fight, and addressing symptoms rather than root causes.
  • Violence: There was a time when I was a news junkie and a fan of violent television and movie dramas. I accepted violent images as part of the status quo, and necessary to tell the story. It added to the realism. I’m not saying that media desensitizes people, or makes them more prone to commit acts of violence themselves. I’m saying that as I’ve gotten older, violence gets on my nerves and sets off my anxiety. Cheap thrills keep me from appreciating more subtle and nuanced things.

Dealing with Real and Imagined Obstacles

All of these come down to my world view, to one degree or another. They’re the filters through which I process information. So I need to be able to assess things without anger, contempt, or acceptance of some aggressive status quo. To be the change, I need to set these imaginary values aside, or at least be aware that I have these biases and tendencies. Then I an access my actual values, not the ones that I’ve been conditioned to fall back on as a result of negative experiences with the world.

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