In a post I wrote a few days ago, I suggested that we may be better off striving to become our authentic selves rather than spending time trying to get people to like or love or include us. That did however, beg the question of how do we become our authentic selves. The short answer is to dig deep to define your values and then live them.
The Quakers have a saying, to “Let your life speak.” At minimum, that means our daily actions should reflect our inward values. But getting to that point is a bit of a lift. In his book titled Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, Parker Palmer – a Quaker teacher – suggests that in order to understand how to live our lives, we need to be deliberate about the values we hope to espouse and uphold.
There are six values which the Quakers call Testimonies, that are the core of how Quakers aspire to live. These testimonies are: Simplicity • Peace • Integrity • Community • Equality and Stewardship. One of the reasons I was drawn to Quakerism is because these testimonies are pretty much how I was raised to live. They make sense to me. Whether or not they make sense to you is something only you can answer.
The real issue is not whether these Quaker testimonies fit you, but how deeply did you dig in order to figure out what values you want to define you. If you are to let your life speak – what is the foundational belief driving your daily decisions, because it is in the day to day where we are tested against our ideal. If we don’t “own” our values; if they are something we picked up in a book and attached to our lives, then we won’t have the fortitude to adhere to them when life calls us to task and forces us to choose between unconscionable options.
I believe that we all know – intuitively – how we want to live; what we want to be; how we wish our lives to unfold. But most often, we don’t take the time to listen to that inner voice guiding us. We don’t do the hard work of sifting out the noise from the true leadings of our heart. And, hard work is exactly what it takes to understand our personal vocations and to define how we want to live and how we hope to treat others.
When I’m faced with deep questions such as what values define me, I turn to a combination of meditation and journaling to find the answers. I use meditation to quiet my mind so I can better hear the voice of my soul. I use journaling to provide clarity to what I hear. Even still, the answers don’t come easily and they certainly don’t come quickly. Defining who we are and what values we espouse is an ongoing process; but one well worth the effort. If I want to let my life speak – I better have a clear understanding of the message I hope to convey. And, unfortunately that clarity doesn’t come in a flashing neon sign as we drive down the street. It comes, one quiet but certain whisper at a time. We just have to learn to listen.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.