In working my way through “Me and White Supremacy” by @laylafsaad, I came to the day on “you and your values.” I was struck by the explanation of values as the way that we spend our time and found myself thinking a lot about this. As a therapist (in training) I think a lot about living out values and whether or not we are using our lives to reflect our values. I was struck by the simple truth that our lives are always reflecting our values—that we’re always making choices about how to spend our time that reflect our decisions about what is most important.
As I wondered more about whether there was any validity in considering the difference between lived and identified values, I began to consider the different ways in which values can be operationalized based on the framework within which we ground them. My valuing of humility, for instance, can move me toward self-deprecation, over-extension, and perfectionism. A distortion of humility as a rejection of my own importance, though, actually keeps me so preoccupied with and centered in my own experience that I cannot challenge my white centering. When I ground humility in my value of interconnectivity, though, I can de-prioritize my own importance not because I am not valuable but because I know that my value is intricately tied to that of others. I give up some of my room at the table not because I am not worthy, but because it is not mine to occupy. I can only take up space that is not mine by keeping someone else from the space that is theirs. Taking up this space robs someone else of what should theirs and without them there I cannot live up to my highest potential.
In a similar way, my value of compassion and of family (both biological and chosen) can become distorted into letting people get away with racism or other problematic behavior because I love them and know they probably mean well. I know I should call out these behaviors and call my loved ones into doing better but I do not want to them to be uncomfortable or hurt. The reality here, though, is that I don’t want to be the reason my loved ones experience discomfort because of how it makes me feel. When I ground my values of family and compassion in my value of interconnectivity, I can challenge my prioritization of my white comfort. I hold myself to a higher standard because I know that living out my love for these people means wanting better for them—wanting them to know and to do better so that they, too, can live up to their true humanity.