Every choice we make has consequences, whatever obvious or not. What seems a great choice at the moment may perhaps have negative consequences later on? A holistic way to approach choices and consequences is to examine our personal value system.
There once was mountaineering team that had prepared for three years for a competitive clime. When they finally began, somewhere after the second camp they came across a seriously injured climber in need of medical assistance. Those were the days of no cell phones. One of the members of the team, seeing the dire situation, and obviously out of a strong value system, decided to drop out of the climb and help to bring down the injured person. No amount of pleading from his team convinced him to do otherwise. And their argument was that “we have our own agenda and this case is of no concern to us”.
If you have been brought up to be caring as soon as a situation presents itself, you are prompted to action. Take the example of someone with a hundred-rupee note on a busy street corner looking desperately for change today for an auto rickshaw and getting refused by people around/ As soon as you see this you know you have the required change as well as the willingness to relieve another person from difficulty and anxiety. You also know that you might one day be in the same situation. “Do unto others what you would like them the Golden Rule, because it is an eternal value.
So you approach the person, respond to the need and walk away. You feel good about yourself because there was congruence between your value system and the choice you made.
What is this ‘congruence?’ It is a match between value and action. Sometimes we are faced with choices that are not congruent with our value system; extreme ones are like having to perhaps pay a bribe for something that is our legitimate right.
How we respond to a situation depends on how strongly we wish to uphold our personal value system. It helps if you take time to write down a set of values that you believe in. Then comes the real test, of living the value. The strange thing is that, whenever we make a commitment to ourselves, all sorts of situations pot up to test us.
Making a good living, being peaceful, helpful, sharing resources – these are all values. Out of these values we make choices and take action. Interestingly, every choice we make has a price. In the case of the mountaineer he paid the price of not reaching the summit, with all the successes that could have followed; perhaps also of having let down his team. He let all that go for saving a life.
Values determine our action preferences and priorities. When asked why he had done this, the young mountaineer’s response was, “If I had let that young man die, no matter what success I achieved, I could not have lived with the thought for the rest of my life.” A rabbinic text encourages us: “in places where there are no human beings, be one.”
The yogic scheme of yamas talks about values that are connected with interactions with others. Another is the four-fold maîtri –karuna –mudita -upeksha or universal friendship, compassion; joy in others’ happiness and consideration for others. If you add these two sets you get a comprehensive value system that can stand the test of time and you will notice that all spiritual traditions are in conformity with these.