Many years ago I attending a training course where we were required to write a personal mission statement. The statement was to be a reflection of our core values.
After much reflection, I wrote:
To Speak Truth, To Feel Compassion, To See Beauty, To Know God
My wife gave me a laminated card with these words on it that I have carried in my wallet for more than 20 years.
This simple but difficult exercise gave me a reflection of my values which has served as a guidepost for navigating personal and professional challenges and making decisions. When I stray from these values, I become a less myself, which negatively affects my mental and physical health, my effectiveness and my relationships.
“To speak truth.” The opposite of this for me is not to lie but to conceal truth. This truth that grounds me is not absolute truth but truth from my perspective. I am most alive when I have the freedom and courage to tell the truth as I see it. Living as a closeted lesbian for many years was the biggest violation of this value, for which I paid a high personal cost.
Not being allowed to speak truth has also been the most challenging aspect of my work-life and compelled me to write a book, Management Culture. Not allowing free expression of ideas or concerns is what makes so many workplaces nearly intolerable. The culture of management is too often grounded in suppressing individual expression of truth. When everyone is free to fully participate and express themselves, work is life-giving and even fun!
“To feel compassion.” The opposite of this for me is not to be heartless or cold but to wallow in guilt about the ease of my life relative to the suffering of others. Guilt is useful in small doses to learn from mistakes and make course corrections but it is not a healthy place for me to live. There is no life in guilt. Guilt causes me to turn away from people rather than toward them because it can consume me. If I stay grounded in compassion, I turn toward people, to feel with them. There is life and connection and action in compassion.
“To see beauty.” Sometimes I focus too much on what is wrong in the world or I am so busy that I fail to pay attention to what is beautiful. I must make a conscious effort to seek and see the beauty around me in the world, in my relationships, in nature and in the fur and purr of my kitties.
“To know God.” I spent many years seeking spiritual truths about God and religion, mostly trying to undue the shame forced upon me from my church for being who I am and speaking my truth. Then one day, I became exhausted from the seeking and remembered that as a child I did not seek God, I knew God. God was with me constantly as a friend, comforter and guide. God was in and around me as I learned and played and grew. Somewhere along the line, I gave up knowing God, and became a seeker instead, focused more on what I don’t know at the expense of what I do know. I know and have always known that there is a loving, compassionate, divine energy that created all that is good and beautiful, and connects everything together. Speaking truth, feeling compassion and seeing beauty are ways that I know God.
If you don’t have a personal mission statement or symbol, I encourage you to try this exercise for yourself. See if you can put into words, or some form of art, symbol, picture or object, a reflection of your deepest values to remind you of who you are at your core. It has saved, grounded, guided and healed me at least a thousand times in the last 20 years.