Over the last few months, I have felt an overwhelming amount of heaviness in my life. On the surface there are at least a dozen great reasons why any of us would be feeling that way. Covid-19 has turned life upside down, the battle of masks is on full display, the Black Lives Matter movement has focused our eyes on the injustice going on right under our nose and the political climate is so hot, 1974’s “Heat Miser” is looking for an iced latte. While I could have blindly thrown a dart and landed on a worthy culprit, it was something else I was feeling.
As I went for my early morning walk the other day, I was listening to Brené Brown’s podcast, “Unlocking Us,” as she was discussing the effects of secondary shame. She gave a powerful example of a schoolteacher shaming a child for not writing their name on an assignment and including the class in the barrage of cringe-worthy assertions. While the unsuspecting student was being humiliated, the rest of the class was experiencing secondary shame in a powerful, uncomfortable way. That’s when it hit me.
The reason I was feeling suffocated from this heaviness was that I was experiencing a tremendous amount of second-hand shame for people I love, family and friends, who were saying things that were truly bothering me regarding the litany of potential reasons I listed above. These weren’t just disagreements. They were direct violations of my non-negotiables. They were acting like social media assassins taking direct aim at my well-being. If you have felt something similar recently, you are faced with the same difficult choice.
If we’ve earned the right to speak the truth into their life, we must. If they ignore our heart, we can no longer invest any significant time in that relationship. I realized that the heaviness I was feeling, was because I was in mourning. I was mourning those relationships because I knew they would never be the same.
If we haven’t earned the right to address on a personal level, then we must let it go and focus on the relationships that we truly care about and the impact we desire within our community. I just made that sound so easy didn’t I? Spoken by a man who holds on to violations like these with the vigor of an André the Giant bear hug. So how do we let go of these indiscretions? Better yet, how do we address those we love? Both questions have the same root answer.
I believe we all have a group of five core values that serve as the foundation from which we make decisions. I refer to these as our, Flock of Five, Black Sheep Values™. These are the deeply held values formed over the course of our lives that, like a black sheep’s wool, cannot be changed or altered.
When we discover our Black Sheep Values™, we can use them to hold our feelings up to in order to see if what is bothering us is a violation of a non-negotiable that needs addressing or simply causing uncomfortableness from something we deem “important.” Too many times we allow things that are merely important, siphon our energy and get in the way of focusing on the things that matter most to us. In those cases, if what is bothering us is not a non-negotiable, we can let it go.
If a violation of our core values has occurred, we need to approach the discussion through the lens of our Black Sheep Values™. We need to lead with our non-negotiables and give context as to why they are for us. When we lead with values and not emotion, we can connect on a deeper level to those we love and have an honest conversation rooted in the things that matter most to us.
So how do we discover our Flock of Five?
Here are three ways to discover your flock:
- Search your mind for peak experiences
In ‘Religions, Values and Peak Experiences’ (1964), Abraham Maslow described peak experiences as sudden feelings of intense happiness and well-being, with an awareness of ultimate truth and the unity of all things. Search your mind for times in your life where you have felt these powerful feelings and ask yourself why you felt this way. Don’t be afraid to get vulnerable.
- Examine your favorites
Our favorites are grounded in the deep-rooted memories and experiences attached to them. They are connected to Maslow’s “peak experiences,” and they usually reflect one or more of your core values. So looking at what you consider a favorite becomes a fascinating study. This is a fun, low-risk way to start asking yourself some deeper, and potentially difficult, questions. What are your movies, songs, foods and even smells? Examining your favorites will reveal some hidden truths about what matters most to you.
- Take on online assessment
There are several great resources for taking a first step into identifying your core values. TherapistAid.com and Lifevaluesinventory.org have several great resources for getting started. We also have developed an online assessment to help discover your Black Sheep Values™ at findyourblacksheep.com.
Finding and activating our black sheep are the keys to staying clear of emotional tornadoes, addressing pressing issues and managing the limited energy we all have during these challenging times. While the pressure of today may make you want to just lay down and “count” some sheep, perhaps the better choice is to stand up and find them.