Are you looking for inspiration and direction during turbulent times? Faced with a global pandemic, economic instability, political division, and a looming climate crisis, how do we best navigate uncertainty in our lives, families and work? Dr. Mandeep Rai, author of the international bestseller, the Values Compass, proposes putting our personal values first. By taking us on a tour of 101 countries, she explains how we can draw important lessons from their core values — think American entrepreneurship, French protest, steadfastness in England, solidarity in Madagascar, consideration in Thailand, or Chutzpah in Israel.
Her book, which has been praised by the likes of the Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra and business leaders around the world, is predicated on the belief that there is no better model for values in action than the countries of the world. A nation’s core values have been shaped through centuries, handed down through generations, constantly evolving but never fundamentally changing.
I spoke to Dr. Rai about her book and how, through sharing the stories of values from around the world and illustrating their power, she hopes to inspire you to start discovering and using yours to help you achieve a more successful, fulfilling and happy life.
DR. RAI, JUST WHAT ARE “VALUES” AND HOW DO THEY DEFINE US?
Put simply, a value is what you value, what you prize, what is inspiring you, what you’re driven by. For some people, health is a value; for others excellence, or teamwork, or family are values. Some people may use words for values that you or I may never have heard of. For example, when writing about the value that defines Greece, I used the Greek word philotimo, an idea with deep roots in one of the world’s oldest civilizations, which everyone knows but no one can agree on an apt translation for. For purposes of the book, I followed the monk Paisios’ definition of the word: goodness.
Or, take the distinctly Thai concept of Kreng Jai, which means consideration, or the importance of respect and deference towards others, which is intrinsic to people in Thailand. And in Indonesia, the principle of gotong royong, which means mutual assistance or support, is inherent to their culture. I always use terms which are important to the people or the society I am working with.
“Values hold the key to many of the things we aspire to… they are the foundation of our entire lives: the lasting and fundamental beliefs we hold and act against, however our circumstances change.”
– from The Values Compass
Everything else — the decisions we make, the ambitions we nurture, the relationships we build — is simply a representation and amplification of our fundamental values.
HOW ARE OUR VALUES FORMED, DEVELOPED OR CHANGED?
A combination of things: nature, nurture, your life experiences after the age of 18, and what you kind of choose. There is also a difference between what values you live by and what values you wish to live by. Some are hard-wired by nature/nurture. After that, we all go through an adult journey of questioning whether that hard wiring works for ourselves. As an adult, you figure out what is going to serve you better.
YOU MENTION USING VALUES AS A TOOL. CAN YOU GIVE US AN EXAMPLE OF HOW WE CAN USE VALUES AS A TOOL IN OUR DAILY LIVES?
You know how people make new year’s resolutions or set goals for the new year and then they are broken by the 20th of January or 5th of February? If you put your values before goals, you are coming at it from a more wholesome place.
If you want to write your wish list for 2021, think about your aspirational values — what would they be? What are your top five? What is really going to change the game in the direction you want to go?
In my book, I take you through a game-changing, 15-minute process that helps you figure out your top five — starting with the 101 values I’ve distilled from the traditions, cultures and people of different countries around the world. If the exact word you are thinking of isn’t there, you pick one and you prioritize it. The process doesn’t take very long, but it is really invaluable.
So, instead of saying, “I must go to the gym” or “I’m going to cut out sugar” and being really hard on yourself, you should ask yourself: “What am I really valuing here? If I value my health, then how is my life going to look? Well, I’ve just decided that health is going to be a priority of mine, so first thing in the morning, I will be active, run or swim or do xyz… And, if health is really important to me, then I will eat differently to change my metabolism such that my body gets used to something that is good for it, etc…”
ARE ALL VALUES CONSIDERED GOOD?
All values have a negative and positive. They all have a shadow side. I encourage you to look at the path of the value that will serve you. Not to go to such extremes that it becomes its shadow side. Think about practical ways in which you can bring that value into your life.
For example, let’s say love is one of your values — being loving, or kind, considerate —and it is a principle or value you wish to live by. That’s great — but that doesn’t mean you get rid of all your discernment so that by the end of the year you feel like everyone has stepped all over you and that all you did was just give, give, give. Even something as altruistic as love, in its extreme, can be difficult.
My process helps you to actively acknowledge and utilize your values to help you make difficult decisions about how you pursue your objectives, manage your relationships, and align your priorities. If you are being served by your values, are inspired by them and are made happy by them, then others around you will be happy and inspired too.
IN YOUR BOOK YOU HIGHLIGHT A SINGLE, UNIQUE VALUE THAT HAS DEFINED EACH NATION’S HISTORY, CULTURE, AND GLOBAL INFLUENCE. TELL US ABOUT WHY YOU CHOSE THE VALUE OF PROTEST FOR FRANCE, WHERE INSPIRELLE IS BASED.
I am very convinced by the value of protest, which is very admirable. It is not only extremely positive and beneficial, it is absolutely necessary to protect one’s rights and to truly live by one’s values. France is a nation that is not afraid to stand up for what it truly believes is right. It truly thinks about one’s best life and work-life balance. It doesn’t think that you live to work, but rather that you work to live. Consequently, there should be a limit to the hours you work, and you should be protected in this way, or you have to go through a certain process before you hire or fire someone. When something is violating that “best life”, then French people are not afraid to stand up and say that.
The fundamental principles of liberté, fraternité, equalité are the building blocks and DNA of your nation. There is nothing as impressive as people truly thinking about how we protect ourselves, our people, and even our environment, and standing up to our leaders when we are veering away from our principles. Protest helps you get closer to what you truly value.
If you are confused about what you value, as soon as it is violated you will really feel it and you will want to stand up for it. For some people, equality is really important — and it is not until they see inequality that they realize equality is really important to them. You don’t shape a value, start protecting it, or start living by it until you are able to identify it. And, sometimes, you can’t identify it until you’re willing to stand up for it or protest about it.
“Protest is what leads to progress: it’s also what allows anger at injustices to find an outlet. Everyone has a right for their voice to be heard. France shows the world what it looks like when that happens.”
– from The Values Compass
WE ARE LIVING IN TUMULTUOUS AND UNCERTAIN TIMES, WITH DIVISIVE POLITICS, AN EROSION OF FAITH IN OUR INSTITUTIONS, AND A DEADLY PANDEMIC WHICH HAS UPENDED OUR LIVES AND LIVELIHOODS. HOW CAN VALUES HELP INDIVIDUALS AND LEADERS NAVIGATE THE CURRENT CRISES?
This pandemic has truly been a reset moment. It has shifted how we live our lives fundamentally and there is no going back. But this is also a moment to create something new going forward. If there was one time to build from a foundation of your values this is it. You can reshape how you choose to work, who you choose to interact with, what you choose to do, and how you choose to do it. If you shape that according to the values that are important to you, your life will be infinitely more fulfilling and therefore, in your definition, more successful and lead to greater happiness.
If you look at what we are going through right now at a granular level, such as the debate around whether you should wear a mask or not, how much should you isolate, etcetera, you can get stuck in the minutia or beliefs. Beliefs and minutia can divide. Values unite and take a more wholesome, long-term and bird’s eye view.
If you come from a place of values, we are actually more similar and aligned than we are divided.
From a values perspective, there is a health crisis taking place. We don’t really know what it looks like, but we know we want to protect the most vulnerable people. Then, how would you behave if health and looking after one another is the priority? I don’t think there is anyone on this planet for whom their health and the health of others is not a priority — it’s the most basic need and priority. Only after you have your health can you think about love, happiness, excellence, work, and all these other things. This is why it is non-negotiable and why the whole world has taken such drastic steps. If we come at the pandemic from a place of values, then we can better understand one another and we can explain things in a much more convincing manner.
YOU HAVE TRAVELED TO OVER 150 COUNTRIES, BUT YOU HAVE A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP WITH FRANCE. TELL US ABOUT THIS.
I get to France at least once a year because the godfather of one of my sons, Mehdi, is French and lives there. Last year, we went skiing near Briançon, right after my book launched, so I had a series of book events in the little towns and villages around there. I was struck by how well-received my book was (even though it is not yet available in French), and how the French people immediately understood the concept. Mehdi, who translated for me, thought I would be wasting my time, but he was amazed at how engaged people were.
I think it’s because French people have this joie de vivre, or exuberance for life, and are in general more interested in their self-development and introspection. They take the time to ponder, reflect, and think about how they can enhance themselves and the world around them. They’re genuinely interested in the rest of world, in what the rest of the world has to offer and how that can be interwoven into their lives to enhance it.
In fact, France was the first country I ever visited. When I was 11 years old, we drove from Gloucestershire, where I am from, took the ferry across the Channel and drove across France. I was so blown away — I can still tell you every single detail of that 3-day trip over 30 years ago: the landscape, what I thought about the beret, that first taste of real baguette, the array of cheeses, the different smells of food … Every single one of my senses was awakened — it was like being born. That trip was what awoke me to the beauty of the world. Even the language — it means nothing until you hear French people speaking it properly. If I hadn’t chosen the word protest for France, I would have chosen the word “grace” or “beauty”.
About Dr. Mandeep Rai:
A global authority on values, Dr. Mandeep Rai works with companies, institutions and individuals around the world, helping them to identify their values and use them as a compass to better their lives, overcome uncertainty and make difficult decisions more effectively. She began her career in investment banking and venture capital, then shifted to international development before becoming a reporter for Reuters and the BBC World Service. To learn more about Dr. Mandeep Rai and her book, visit her WEBSITE.