Interview with Prof. Mary Gentile Virginia University
The beginning of a new year can be a tough time. The perspective of 12 months of hard work and effort, to achieve goals that we feel are indeed distant from our true dreams and values could be very hurting. But are we sure that we need to renounce to them to have a wealthy and happy life? We asked Mary Gentile – professor at University of Virginia Darden School of Business – who, over 10 years ago, created the program Giving Voice to Values, whose aim is to help people to reconciliate their soul with their goals.
Don’t give up!
Thank you for inviting me to reflect on this question, so important to all of us. I think that often we find ourselves in situations and jobs that do not fulfill us because we don’t believe we have any choice. We feel the responsibilities of caring for our families, paying our mortgage or rent, saving for our children’s education and/or for our own retirements, and so on. We think that it is too risky to speak our minds when we see things that seem wrong to us or even to leave a “safe and secure” position in order to find something more satisfying and meaningful.
The irony is that it is neither safe nor secure to accept situations that are in conflict with our own values or that do not satisfy our true aspirations for our lives. If we do so, we will find ourselves increasingly unhappy, cynical, stressed, and out of touch with the person we always thought we were. I don’t mean to underestimate the difficulty of taking steps to address these challenges, but I encourage you not to overestimate that difficulty…and not to underestimate the cost of failing to do so either.
At this time of renewal as a New Year begins, let me encourage you to simply see yourself on the journey toward a fuller and more complete expression of your own true and highest self. That is, instead of retreating from the challenge out of fear, I suggest you simply engage in what I call the “Giving Voice To Values Thought Experiment” and ask yourself:
- WHAT IF I were going to try to raise an important question at work, or begin to look for ways to make my current role more satisfying, or even begin to explore new opportunities outside my present job? What would that look like?
- Is there one thing I can say or do; one issue I could learn about; one conversation I could have that would begin to move me past my current status quo?
The trick is to build a quiet but steady momentum.
Effectiveness vs truth
To give voice to values is not an “all or nothing” endeavor. Rather, being true to oneself is a process, a life-long process, and it starts by taking one step, asking one question, reaching out to one person, reading one book … That is, if you can define this goal as a journey rather than a single, complete and final decision, you can allow yourself to try. The risks feel lower, the failed attempts feel less defeating, and the successes will be more immediate and tangible and can fuel you toward your next effort.
I suppose the most personal and immediate example of the success of Giving Voice To Values is simply how widely and rapidly it has been adopted around the world. Giving Voice To Values is methodology for helping people to more often and more successfully and more naturally to act on their deepest moral values. Rather than approach values and ethics as if they are only an intellectual challenge – how to decide what is right – GVV starts from the premise that most of us actually know what we think is right, most of the time. We just don’t believe it is necessarily possible to act on that conviction successfully and without undue risk. So GVV simply asks a new question in the process of educating people:
instead of asking “what is right?”, we ask “once you know what is right, how can you get it done effectively?”.
After building a pedagogy, a curriculum and an ever-growing set of materials to help individuals to apply the insights of GVV, we have been stunned at the enthusiastic response. We hear from managers, from youth, from parents, from coaches, from physicians and nurses, from military officers and enlisted individuals, from lawyers, from executives on a regular basis about how much this approach encourages them, empowers them, inspires them. When I built GVV, I never thought I would be sharing it with the United Nations, the IAEA, the U.S. Army, healthcare executives in the Middle East, financial advisors in Australia, certified fraud examiners in Moscow, or managers in Nigeria….
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But this experience has shown to me that most of us really want to feel that we can feel free and confident and competent to act on our deepest values and our truest selves.
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A new habit for a new year
I simply would suggest that when you feel discouraged or defeated at the prospect of acting on your values or pursuing your aspirations,
instead of asking WHETHER it is possible for you to do these things, ask yourself “WHAT IF I were going to start? What would be a good first step?” and then give it a shot.
See it as the journey for 2020 rather than an all-of-a-sudden change…and celebrate each step. In this way, you can find satisfaction along the way because this journey is a life-long one and it never stops.
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