Some folks seek to surround themselves with people who share their values. They seek harmony. While it’s nice to feel like you’ve found your tribe, here are a few reasons you shouldn’t wish that everyone else shared your values. 

Human resilience partly comes from us having different values. 

For example, some people are cautious and others are bold. This is a trait but it can also be a value.

I like that I’m cautious. I think my vigilance and my aversion to mistakes has worth. However, it would not be useful for everyone else to share my extreme caution. Less would get achieved!

Another example – I don’t like trinkets. I’m not very aesthetic. I hate gifts. However, I’m super glad other people like these things, so that artists have a market for their products. I love that people get to make their passion and talents their job because other people like artsy products, or want to buy a hoodie or mug from their favorite YouTuber.

People develop their values through their experiences.

Most evenings, I see around a hundred people, mostly young men of color, playing mask-less basketball at a park near my house. On one level, this seems insane and irresponsible in a pandemic. My first response is anger and frustration. But, here’s the thing. Especially for men of color, following the rules and obeying authority doesn’t guarantee their safety. They’ve learned that through their own life experiences, and observing the experiences of their peers and community members. So, their calculus might be different. They might think “If I can’t guarantee my safety, why not live for today? Why not enjoy this simple pleasure of playing sport? Why not stay connected with my friends through this outlet? Why not relieve my stress this way?”

In contrast, for me as a white, middle-class woman, I’ve learned that rule-following and being obedient will usually keep me safe.

I’m not saying that their behavior in this situation is right. But, optimal coping isn’t the same for everyone. It depends on your learning experiences. The environments we live in have different rewards and punishments. I still think playing maskless basketball in large groups is reckless, but it’s more understandable when I take this perspective. I become less judgmental.

Other examples:

– If the people and systems around you are unreliable then it makes less sense to delay gratification. 

– We develop skills that we need and that are reinforced. If you grow up very privileged, then empathy might not have been a skill you particularly needed, therefore that skill might underdeveloped for you. We often value what we’re better at, and devalue what we’re worse at.

Seeking to surround yourself with people who share your values is anti-diversity.

Following on from the point above, there is a good chance that people who share your values will be a closer match to you in terms of your gender, class, ethnicity, geographic origin, age, etc.

So, for example, when people make hiring decisions based on cultural fit, we get situations of prejudice, discrimination, and advantage/disadvantage. This might not be done intentionally, but it’s a side effect. For example, if you’re in a tech startup and you want to hire people who have the same dedication to work as you do, or the same tastes and interests. 

Even personality plays a factor here. For example, as a serious introvert, I wouldn’t want is to work for a company that made me do “fun” team-building exercises.

Preferencing certain values, like endless positivity, can end up being discriminatory. The effects of this go beyond just being wrong and unfair to the affected individuals and communities. The effect is also anti-performance. We tend to feel more uncomfortable in diverse teams and perceive more conflict but perform better.


Understand where your values come from. 

Your experiences shape your values in so many ways. For example, naturally I tend to value freedom more than equality. Of course, both are important. However, if you were to ask me which is more personally important to me, my gut reaction would be to say freedom. Given that I’m very capable and have a lot of privilege (and have never had to worry much about equality), it makes sense that I’d come to that conclusion.

When you understand how your own values have developed, it’s easier to see how other people have developed their’s. Whatever your experiences and nature are will result in you downplaying some values and uplifting the importance of others.

Exercise: Ask yourself – how have my strengths, weaknesses, personality, and experiences shaped my values. Come up with an example in each of these categories.

For example, “My strength of being very resourceful, contributes to me valuing freedom. I like to do things outside the box, and don’t like rules that hinder that.”

Another example: “I’m anxious by nature and fear feeling trapped. Even thinking about lockdowns leaves me feeling panicky and having intense thought intrusions. Therefore, freedom to travel is important to me.”

Understanding yourself better, and where your beliefs and values come from, will help you understand others. You’ll get a more nuanced understanding of all this if you don’t just view how group status has influenced your values (class, where you’re from etc), but if you also view how your personality, strengths and weaknesses have shaped your values and views. Start by identifying your most extreme strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits (ways you differ from most other people), and go from there.

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