Personal values are the beliefs and philosophies which define each person as an individual. They are the things that, consciously or not, we use every day to make small and large decisions. They are intrinsically linked to our behaviour, interests and relationships, and having the ability to express your personal values can be the difference between being successful in the workforce or not. So it is a bit surprising that, three years into my degree, I am only being asked to consider what my personal values are now.
In order to figure out the value I consider most important I thought about some of the instances in my life which have been most affecting. It was surprising and somewhat upsetting to realise that the majority of these events have not been positive. Perhaps this makes sense because it is how we react to challenges that define us, and these experiences have helped me grow and develop into the person I am today.
I had a friend who, after school, lost a lot of weight. I thought he might be anorexic, but could not be sure, so I would make sure he ate while I was around but felt like there was not much else I could do. Unfortunately body issues were the least of his problems. He came from a religious background and was struggling with his sexual identity as well. I had always known him to be a happy and positive person but he fell into a very serious depression, going so far as to attempt suicide. When he drank it just became worse.
One night I had just gotten home from work and I was really tired. My phone rang. He was drunk and crying, telling me he wanted to lie down on train tracks and apologising over and over again for relying on me so much. I spent the next hour telling him how much he meant to me and to all our friends and what an amazing person he was, trying to remain upbeat and not get emotional. When he was home we hung up and I was almost relieved because I could finally cry and get out everything, but also terrified because what if my words were not enough? What if I woke up the next morning and he was dead? I cannot count how many times this scenario played itself out over the next few months.
That period in my life was awful, but I would also never change it because my friends and I are probably the reason he is still around.
Reflecting on these events I came to the conclusion that my concern for others’ wellbeing over my own is the quality I am most proud of, and that this value is one I use most in my own life. MSS Research defines the value of concern as having the ability to “forget yourself” and focus on others by being an attentive listener and being non-judgemental and open. Throughout his depression, my friend always knew he could call me and I would listen without judgement or bias. I feel proud about that.
This concern for others also extends to people I do not know. One night I had gotten off the train in my suburb and as I was crossing the road I saw a girl on her phone walking very fast towards, and then past me. She was on her phone and crying about how she did not know where she was and wanted to kill herself. I instantly had flashbacks to those long nights when my friend would call me and knew I had to do something. I phoned the police and told them where the girl was and where she was heading, what she looked like and what she had been saying. They said they would send a car and find her. I know that a lot of people would have pretended not to notice this girl and kept walking and even though I do not know what happened, I hope I helped her and whoever she was talking to.
In coming to the conclusion that concern for others was the value I most identified with, I started thinking about how this would influence my future job opportunities. Ideally I would like to become a journalist, and I think my concern for others will be something that has positive as well as negative impacts on this career. The SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists) Code of Ethics very clearly lays out the values that every journalist should aim to uphold in their career and being concerned with others’ welfare will help me adhere to many of these expectations. The three that most resonated with this value are:
Journalists must be cautious when making promises, but keep the promises they make.
My concern for others and ability to see things from another point of view means I rarely break promises and take promises very seriously.
Journalists must support the open and civil exchange of ideas, even views they find repugnant.
My ability to listen without judgement or bias means that I will be able to support the flow of free ideas.
Journalists must boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience. Seek sources whose voices we seldom hear.
Again my ability to listen to people will mean I will be able to seek out voices that are not heard or considered often.
My ability to listen to people also means I am good at conducting interviews. I am a very active listener and feedback from people I have interviewed in the past has been that they felt very comfortable talking to me, because I was actually paying attention and had the ability to change my pre-planned questions or stop using them altogether because the interview ended up going in a different direction.
There are a few areas in which my concern for others may be a hindrance rather than a help however:
Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere.
I may find this hard to do if I become so overly concerned with someone’s wellbeing that I am not able to see the bigger picture and grant someone anonymity who does not really need or deserve it.
Overall I am very proud to have the personal value of concern for others and very grateful to have been given the opportunity and skills required to figure this out on my own.