Values and Meanings

By Batya Yaniger

Values are simply opportunities to make life meaningful. Every single moment can become meaningful as soon as you find value in it.

There are three kinds of situations in which you can find something of value: situations in which you can make an impact on the world (creative values), situations in which you can experience love, music or beauty (experiential values) and situations in which events are not in your control (attitudinal values).

The names Frankl assigns to these values express your response to such a situation, because your response turns the potential for value into something concrete. You have added something that wasn’t there before. You have made the potential value into a reality.

What is valuable about your response?

There is value to the ways you impact the world, there is value to the ways you appreciate life’s gifts and there is value in your courage and conviction in the face of pain and crisis.

You always have a choice. Doing something good with challenging situations is particularly transformative. You can choose to face suffering with dignity and faith, to face guilt with remorse and correction of wrongdoing and to face death as a reminder to live fully now.

Values are intrinsic to every situation. They are like little glimmers of light in the background that are hidden from view until we ignite them and make them real. Nobody ever won an award for being ‘potentially courageous’ but many have displayed awe-inspiring courage in response to situations that confronted them. Thus, meanings and values are something objectively true about a situation. It is objectively true that here is an opportunity for doing an act of kindness and there is an opportunity to enjoy the sunset.

Life is meaningful despite tragic experiences. Fateful events are thrust upon us against our will. But so too is opportunity thrust upon us. Life happens. Just as you did not create the fateful event, you did not create the opportunity. The potential for doing something of value with the situation is intrinsic to the situation itself.

While values are objective, they are also personal in the sense that they address us personally. At any given moment there can be many potentialities of value. There may be conflicting values. But one a particular value has your name on it. One value peeks through a situation ‘calls’ you, so to speak, to a task or mission. Therefore meaning must be discovered, not invented. — What is my mission? Conscience transmits the call. It is like a sixth sense that tells you what is meaningful or rather, what you must do in order for life to be meaningful.

Meaning comes from beyond you. Values are not relative and they are not a matter of personal preference. You always have to determine whether or not what you like is also meaningful. If values were only your own projection, something you invented based on your psychological needs, values would never be able to challenge you and stretch you beyond your comfort zone. And they would never be able to make demands on you. They demand a response because you know what is at stake.

As long as your conscience is turned on you cannot choose whether or not to hear the still, small voice within you; you can only choose whether or not to obey the call. When you do respond, it is called response-ability, the ability to respond to be able to hear yourself being called and the ability to answer.