One thing that I’ve noticed lately, and maybe it has something to do with the topics being discussed recently amongst several of my former colleagues, is that there appears to be a real disconnect between what many folks say is important to them, and what behaviors they are exhibiting or what’s commonly referred to as the “value-action gap.” 

A prime example might be a person who claims that they are in favor of safe working conditions, yet forgoes paying slightly more for a product that adheres to a prudent, favorable manufacturing environment for its employees.

As we know, it is our personal value system that makes up the core foundation of who we are. It consists of essential beliefs that allow us to choose what is of the greatest importance in our life. Whether we realize it or not, the decisions we make on a daily basis are a direct result of those very same values. Maintaining our value-action alignment is fundamental if we are to follow a consistent path.

That’s not to say there aren’t myriad obstacles out there, challenging us to make choices before we proceed with our actions. As a former Field Supervisor for several public opinion and research firms, I always found it rather fascinating when a person being interviewed was presented with a given scenario in which they were asked what they would do in a certain circumstance and most importantly, what their reason would be for doing so. It truly is a window into which factors influence someone and which do not.

Not surprisingly, fear tends to be a key motivating factor in the choices we make and therefore it oftentimes gets in the way of us following through with an appropriate values-based decision. 

We don’t have to look too far to see this incongruency in action on a national level when a politician or government official takes a stance on a given measure that runs counter to their beliefs. 

In this particular example, fear of losing their position and the money stream that supports them makes them unwilling to take chances. This can be quite frustrating for those constituents who expected them to follow through on their values-based platform prior to becoming elected, when instead they choose self-preservation. 

Many of our core values become instilled in us early on, not only through the more obvious sources such as family, but also our education, the community in which we are raised, and the cultural norms that support such communities. We can imagine how different one individual might be from the next if and when any of these components is seriously altered or is completely absent from this patchwork of influential factors. 

That’s not to say we don’t make some alterations or modify our perspectives when it comes to beliefs and values, especially after experiencing major life events. What we valued as a young adult clearly might need an adjustment of sorts if we decide to start a family or embark upon a specific career path. Similarly, those “end of life” decisions that we codify while approaching our latter years may in fact run counter to those original values we placed on life when we were much younger. 

Recently, I came across a blog post that I found particularly applicable to this topic whereby the author, Kim West, a certified coach and consultant, shared a personal anecdote with her readers and clients. 

In the passage, she addresses four ways in which we might lessen the gap between our perceived priorities of the moment and those values we hold close to our heart:  consciously re-prioritize and realign, press the pause button, build more flexibility into our lives, and periodically re-evaluate the stances we take. 

Personally, I can see each of those suggestions making an impact as one becomes more mindful of their values-based circumstances and how best to close the gap.

Dave Davis
Dave Davis teaches preschool for the Head Start program based at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, NY. He is also a frequent contributor to “Who Smarted?,” a popular educational podcast for elementary school children.

One thought on “Dave’s Desk@Ditch: Addressing the Values-Action Gap

  1. You make some valid points about how our values can change with our view of life at certain times in our lives. And yes, pausing to think deeply about what is important to us is key.

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