What values does our society need today? How should we teach children about values? How could we handle more gracefully conflicting values? And how could we have handled Covid19 with more grace? These are some of the core questions that psychologist Diana Amza tackles and gives us a new, profound perspective on values and their role in today’s world.
Diana Amza is a mother, a psychologist, trainer and psychotherapist trained in Experiential Unification Psychotherapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Neuro-mindfulness Coaching, with over 14 years of experience in the field of Mental Health. Passionate about colors, metaphors and symbols, she promotes psycho-education for everyone by designing creative tools that can be applied in psychotherapy, counselling, coaching and education.
She is also involved in the implementation of various training programs, addressing topics such as: stress management, managing emotions, personal development, managing mental health problems, motivational interviewing, parenting and psychological flexibility.
- When did values first start to take shape in your mind and spirit?
Childhood is full of values – we all learn to prioritize them through the models we have and the experiences we go through. But I remember my first voluntary approach was during my University years. As a young woman, I felt insecure. I would mask my insecurity by focusing on my looks rather than my inner self. One day, I simply decided to focus on my personal development and see how my life changes. I grabbed a piece of paper and began jotting down some important values to me. I remember writing Generosity, Creativity, Responsibility, Love, Vision, Kindness, Beauty, Spirituality and Conscientiousness.
From that day forward, I dedicated one week to one value and noticed how they manifested in my life. That was my first attempt at self-development through values.
2. Why do you think today’s world needs to focus more on values? What are we missing as a society? What should we be focusing on for a better world?
I think there is too much competition and too little cooperation; too much isolation and too little inclusion; too much emphasis on goals and material achievement; too little focus on the process of becoming achieved; too much self-entitlement and too little humility. As I like to say, we really need to just breathe!
Values bring balance, a sense of meaning and direction – something I notice it missing in the clients I work with. They protect us during stressful periods by adding meaning even in absurd situations that are otherwise out of our control. They also empower us to take certain actions and to choose how we respond to situations, not just act out of impulse and regret afterwards.
With values, we always have a choice. Values connect us to our healthy side – and we need to cultivate that more – in ourselves, in children, teenagers, parents and those who suffer. It is about being more intentional and aware of the “why” and the “how” of our actions.
3. As a psychologist, how much do you use values as part of your psychotherapy and how?
I use them every single session and sometimes I don’t even mention the word “value”. When the client is ready and willing, we can go through a process of self-discovery where I can use inventories, experiential exercises, metaphors, meditation, deep conversation and even the playful cards I created. It can all start from a tear whose message wants to be heard. Or from desire, fear or joy. It is important to work flexibly and ensure that people understand that values are not rules that result in rewards or punishment that we must follow at any cost. They are sometimes continuous, at other times, interrupted choices we make for ourselves, stemming from our connection to our healthy, bright, spiritual self.
4. When should we start teaching children about values? How early is too early and can they grasp such an abstract notion? What advice would you give parents on how to approach the topic of values?
From the moment they are born, children are bathed into the values of their caregivers whether we like to admit it or not. We teach them unwillingly, through our choices, through the manner in which we talk and behave to them, others and ourselves, or how we solve problems. We are role models – imperfect ones, of course. My advice to parents: never be afraid to say you are sorry when you have acted wrongly and show children how to take responsibility by working on yourself. Help children connect manners of behaviors to values by happily pointing them out yourself: “Ah, you shared your toys, that was generous of you!” Never force values onto children. Be patient, be a persistent role-model and you will eventually see the seeds growing!
5. We face many conflicts in our daily lives due to clash of values. What advice would you give to people who have conflicting values in order to solve their issues in a peaceful and productive manner?
Viktor Frankl elegantly solved this by proposing a visual model of values. Basically, values only seem to clash just like two circles seem to overlap from a 2D perspective. If you move up to 3D, you see the circles are spheres and that one is simply above the other. At all times, we have a hierarchy of values. We can express some (we are limited beings, after all), and while some surface to the top, others stay below. Change the context, and then some values from below may get to the top. Sometimes, it is all about time management.
The advice would be: choose or build the right context for your values to be expressed. Choose multiple ways, as in behaviors and actions, to express a certain value, so that, when one opportunity is closed, you have other areas of your life to express the same value. For instance, if teaching with passion is no longer possible due to retirement, remember that you just need to change the context and keep the passion alive. One can achieve this through volunteering, teaching young family members, holding private webinars.
Even whenever the context you find yourself in, seems to be uncontrollable, you still have the freedom to choose. You can choose the manner in which you want to behave, the values you want to represent, despite the context that life provides you with. In existential terms, you can respond to suffering in your own terms, through your own choice of values, thus building meaning into your life. In therapy, we often search for this higher meaning values offer us, as a source of balance and healing.
6. A good example of the question above, is how members of our society dealt with their values surrounding COVID 19. Many felt a societal obligation, while others felt an obligation towards themselves. What values and techniques could have led to less conflict between people and their beliefs?
In this case, we move from personal values to society rules. We have survived and evolved in communities, it only makes sense that we would overcome the pandemic with a collective effort. However, it triggered our individual survival responses and defense mechanisms. There was a lot of fear and plenty of loss all around us. I believe more compassion, patience and respect for different choices and less judgment would have spared relationships from broken expectations.
7. How can we make sure our values remain flexible? How do we avoid being hostage or too loyal to our values and risk our connection to community and other individuals? When do we know we are holding on too tight or not tight enough to our values?
I like your metaphor “hostage”. Indeed, a value can be taken hostage by inflexible rules, that come together and imprison the value, confining it to a limited set of actions.
I’ll give an example here: Let’s take honesty at a value we are working on. I choose to be deeply honest to people who are dear to me.
And then, this is how we build the prison, by adding layers of rules:
Rule 1: I must be honest with everybody all the time.
Rule 2: Even if it hurts or demeans you, I will still say it as I feel it because that is honesty.
Rule 3: My honesty is the ultimate truth (not just my vision).
Rule 4: If I am not completely honest, then my relationships must be superficial.
Rule 5: You can’t love me completely unless you know me completely, therefore I must be transparent and hold nothing back – I want to be loved, so I overshare.
Rule 6: Honesty hurts. There is no soft or compassionate way to speak the truth.
You can easily see how rules confine not just values, but our frame of mind. We end up prisoners of “musts” and “shoulds”. A nice way to discover where you stand, is this: if your body is tense, if your breath is short and held back, if your jaws are clenched – then somewhere in there, you might be holding too tightly to a rule or a desired outcome. Acting from your values feels more open hearted despite hardship. It does not mean it is easy, it just means it allows for more flow and vitality in your body, which better sustain your actions.
I can give an example of my own: Development is an important value for me. I was always afraid of public speaking, so I decided I would let myself be guided by Development to overcome my fear. So, in a group of fellow psychologists, I dared do the unthinkable: raise my hand and express my opinion.
As luck would have it, the teacher made me wait for my turn, so then I had a choice: give up or keep raising my hand. My body was full of uncomfortable sensations: shortness of breath, burning cheeks, heart pounding, the impulse of letting go and ringing in my ears. But there was also something else there: my stubborn intention to grow, to evolve which gave me a feeling of curiosity and courage. And that was my turning point. That is how I grew. One simple gesture to keep going despite hardship and discomfort, to live in line with my values.
Hey, do I still get nervous while public speaking? Yes, I do! But I choose to be guided by values, not fears, and that is a difference my body naturally knows!
8. May I ask you what values are you focusing on at the moment?
I am focusing more on care and self-care, gratitude, creativity, service (contribution) and organization. Ask me again in a month!
9. How are you hoping to change individuals and society with the value cards you have created?
I hope to inspire individuals within my reach to connect to their own light within and to empower them to live a life of meaning and fulfillment. As candles spreading light, this is not a job for one, but for many.
On the 28 of February, Diana will be organizing the “Living values: Explore your personal values” workshop. It’s a face to face event where she will explain how to use the value cards she created. If you are interested to know more or to purchase the cards, please contact Diana on her Facebook account. Diana has also donated a pack of value cards to the Dutch Jette Library in Brussels, which will be readily available for check out.