Moral Courage and Resiliency

Posted on January 10, 2014

I hope everyone had a great Holiday and New Year!  As I promised in my last post, I’ll have some big news coming out in the next couple of weeks. Today I would like to wrap up our great discussion on Resiliency by looking at a concept I am really interested in:  the role of our moral courage.
Rushworth Kidder defines moral courage as “…standing up for values…the willingness to take a tough stand for right in the face of danger…the courage to do the right thing…the quality of mind and spirit that enables one to face up to ethical challenges firmly and confidently without flinching or retreating.”  Having moral courage starts with values.  Values have fascinated me for a while now.  For years I looked at values as a soft psychological phenomenon.  Basically, I dismissed them as a pop culture way to make us feel good about ourselves while having little scientific or practical value.
As I was creating my trauma informed leadership model, I was confronted by research done by James Kouzes and Barry Posner on shared values which is summarized in the slide below.
A quick word about shared values.  Values are shared in an organization when people can connect their own personal values to those of the organization and their coworkers.  In other words they are collective values that guide behavior and ethical decision making within the organization.  I have read well over 100 books on leadership and have never seen outcomes this powerful associated with any other concept.  I have been struggling to understand what it is that actually gives values their power to dramatically increase revenue, stock prices, profit and job creation.
From a neurobiological perspective values are loaded with energy and information.  When we state our values, either as an individual or organization, we tell another person what directs our behavior and thinking, giving them information about who we are as people and groups.  This information is connected to the energy of our passion and dreams.  Values offer a glimpse into the very core of our very being.
Tony Schwartz stated that “Deeply held values help us to avoid being whipsawed by whatever winds happen to be blowing around us.  Values provide an internal source of direction for our behaviors.”  He found that values are a hierarchy of emotionally toned thoughts.  What we like and find compelling is at the top, and what we loathe at the bottom.  I started to realize that values were far from soft concepts.  Instead, they give us a language to describe ourselves and our role in the world.
When I labeled values as “soft concepts”, I was way off base.  I also have to admit that at that time in my life, I had never explicitly established my own personal values.  I had seen exercises in many books about the importance of establishing your own personal values.  I usually skipped these sections.  But finally I reached a critical mass of evidence.  Values where an expression of who I was as a person, and I needed to better define myself and what drives me to do the work I do and the life I live. I love when my reading challenges and overcomes long held beliefs. I felt compelled to use myself as a test dummy to see if values could change behavior and thinking.
So I Googled Values List and started to go through the lists to see which words resonated with the core of who I am.  After taking some time for reflection I came up with the values of Health, Loyalty, Positive, Service to others and Kindness to the earth as my core values.  I took this a step further and defined how my values should guide my physical, social and mind health. Here is what I came up with:

  • Loyalty
  • Kindness to earth
  • Health
  • Positive
  • Service to others
 Physical Health:
  • Eat for health, living things and the earth
  • Exercise for energy
  • Refresh and recover
 Mind Health
  • Energy
    • Be mindful in thought and live in the present
    • Spend time daily on spiritual development and practice
    • Put energy into meaningful things
    • Rest and recover in healthy ways
  •  Information
    • Learn every day
    • Learn for inspiration and challenge
    • Learn for others
 Social Health
  • Be loyal and act with integrity
  • Be kind and patient and find good in all
  • Give of self without e
    xpectations of any return
Then I started to look at how my behaviors lined up with these statements. I realized I had some work to do before I could state I was truly living my values.  I created my own cognitive dissonance every day that I failed to live up to my own expectations.  This motivated me to look at how I lived my life and has led to many big changes.
One of the key things I also did was have the above statements and values e-mailed to me every morning.  I do these through followupthen.comwhich sends me an e-mail containing the above list every morning.  This quick exercise reminds me of the energy that I want to bring to my work and life that day.  I find it much harder to act outside of my values when they are in my inbox every morning. 
Before moving on to how values impact resiliency, I challenge you to complete the values exercise.  Just a quick note, in my Motivational Interviewing training I also present this as a tool to use with clients.  We know defining values increases motivation for change.  It is simple and only takes a few minutes:
  1. Google values list and pick 4 – 6 values. 
  2. Create statements on how you live these values to increase your physical, mind and social health (you can adjust these categories if others work better for you)
  3. Go to followupthen.comand have them e-mail you values and statement everyday
  4. Read your e-mail in the morning to center yourself on what you truly value.

Now let’s connect the importance of values to resiliency.  This is a slide I adapted from Kidder’s work to help visualize the concept of moral courage.  
Kidder’s model of moral courage has three components.  The first is danger or a threat.  For many of our clients this can be a trauma or threat of physical, financial or other form of harm. 
The next, which is my twist on Kidder’s model, is robustness or the energy we bring to our life and situation.  I know most of you have heard my cup analogy. For those that have, you know that I believe that we all have an internal energy capacity.  This capacity results from our physical, mind and social health and ability to manage stress. It is important to be proactive in our health, because it allows us to handle stress in a effective way.  In the same spirit the impact of stress can also be managed by the healthy actions we take when confronted with intense stress or trauma. 
The final component is our values.  I love Kidder’s model because it shows that when danger is present, we fall back on both our core values and our robustness.  Values give us direction even in our darkest moments and robustness gives us energy to confront the threat head on.  If we have values but not robustness then we are likely to act timidly if at all in the face of danger.  Robustness without values results in misplaced actions that might get us in more trouble, and in many ways may resemble the fight or flight emotional responses to intense stress. 
As I think about transformative leaders, I see an abundance of moral courage.  Figures like Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks or the Dalai Lama exude moral courage, enabling them to keep emotionally regulated in the face of great hardships.  They got great strength from their values, and found the energy to endure trials that led others to violence or to give up all together. 
In my own life I have found that moral courage and wisdom go hand in hand.  When I was younger I would take to the streets in protest every time something pissed me off (becoming politically aware during George W’s presidency gave me plenty of fuel for my fight response!). As I get older, I’m still opposed to many of the same things but I also understand that yelling does little good except giving those that disagree with me permission to yell back.
As I started to internalize my values I soon realized that if I wanted to make any impact in this world, I needed to stop yelling and start reading and thinking about the true issues behind the problems I was protesting.  In this new approach I armed myself with knowledge (information) which I’m learning how to communicate in a nonviolent and meaningful way (energy). 
I have also been thinking a great deal about how we assist our clients in building their own moral courage.  Substance abuse, mental health issues, chronic disease, housing and food instability are all dangers that can dramatically limit robustness. When we help clients address these issues I think we miss a great opportunity if we don’t bring values into the conversation.  Just because clients struggle with difficult issues does not mean that values don’t play a major role in their lives.
Giving a client space to discuss their values, bring positive energy into what can often be a dark situation. It also can be a spark of motivation.  Once we state our values, we then have to confront ourselves for living outside of them.  This is a slide from my Motivational Interviewing training that gives some questions to introduce a values conversation with clients and some of the outcomes these conversations can elicit.
Someone asking about our values means they value us as a person.  That is a powerful gift to give another person.
My question for this week:  Has anyone integrated values conversation into their work with clients?  If so how did you do this and what were the results?  For those that haven’t utilized values, do you see an opportunity to do so?  

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